Opening Day

OPENING DAY

By Sam Garfield

Mickey Mantle’s muscles in the October sun.
A Willie Mays basket catch, Sal Maglie’s chin music.

Jack Quinlan’s boyish buoyancy, Vin Scully’s eloquence.
Russ Hodges: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

The copper filigree of the Yankee Stadium frieze.
Shadows across the Wrigley Field outfield, as omnipresent pigeons speckle the grass following another afternoon loss.
Faraway, beyond the park, a tree sways in the summer breeze, as seen through the arched windows of Old Comiskey.

– – –

Sandy Koufax looking in.
Joe DiMaggio rounding second, Jackie Robinson stealing home.

Baggy wool uniforms.
The practice swings –three or four bats at a time– of the on-deck hitter.
All in blue, Nestor Chylak peering over his  chest protector behind home plate.

Fedoras, suits and ties, and cigarette smoke in the field boxes.
Bagged sandwiches, and keeping a scorecard in the grandstands; beer and betting in the bleachers.

– – –

Joe Nuxhall’s baby face.
Stan Musial’s grace, Ted Williams’ scowl.

Baseball cards in living color.
A Hank Sauer for a Nellie Fox. “Whata ya nuts?” Our own Fantasy League, each kid a general manager.

Running Bases, Five Hundred, Stoop Baseball –when it was truly a game. No umpires needed.

– – –

Roger Maris chasing 61.
Don Larsen’s perfection, Bill Mazeroski ‘s shot.

Where were you when the nation wanted Mickey to get there first? When Dale Mitchell looked at strike-three? When a number-eight hitter did the improbable?

Those of us caught in its flame mark time by the game’s great moments; they remain with us forever.

– – –

Opening Day, when everyone buys in.

Game time. A sweet buzz hangs in the air, a giddy euphoria all over town –-in barbershops, on playgrounds, in offices. Soon it will end, we all know. But for now, for an entire spring afternoon, anything is possible. This hope will carry us –albeit, in varying degrees– throughout the summer; maybe even a little longer. But when the days get short and the nights grow cold, it will end.

But this we know for certain–the October sun never sets on Mickey Mantle’s muscles.

Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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