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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sayonara, Tradition? Why the Reds Should Play the Opening Game


"This is how your 2012 big league season begins:
In the middle of the night
on a Wednesday in March,
 thousands of miles away,
in a game between two bad teams
playing in a dome, on fake grass,
before a crowd that couldn't care less.

"It's a far cry from the traditional day game in Cincinnati,
a tradition that went away so long ago
it's almost embarrassing to admit to remembering it."

(Tim Keown, "MLB in Tokyo: Will Anyone Notice? ESPN, March 28 2012)

Much is said about the necessity of preserving baseball tradition, the revered history of America's National Pastime -- a sport believed by many to be "the perfect game." Opening day represents not only the beginning of the Major League Baseball season but also a symbol of rebirth. Writer Thomas Boswell once penned a book titled, Why Time Begins on Opening Day. Many feel that the occasion represents a newness or a chance to forget last season, in that the 30 major league clubs and their millions of fans begin with 0-0 records.

Boswell writes:

"In contrast to the unwieldy world which we hold in common, baseball offers a kingdom built to human scale. Its problems and questions are exactly our size. Here we may come when we feel a need for a rooted point of reference." 

("Time Begins On Opening Day,, March 31 2011)

Cincinnati Red Stockings 1869

Cincinnati -- Its Reds and the History of Opening the Baseball Season

For generations, Opening Day has arrived amid pageantry. In Cincinnati, Ohio, home of the sport's first professional team, an annual parade marks an unofficial "city holiday" with young and old alike taking the day off to cheer on the Reds. For decades, the first pitch of every major league season officially took place in Cincinnati. Cincinnati remains the only team who always opens the season with a home game (except in 1990) when the Reds opened the season at the Houston Astrodome.

Time for a history lesson. Season openers in the early days of baseball were nor special occasions. Even Cincinnati’s home opener drew little attention from the press and the public. There were no sellout crowds, no hoopla, no ceremonies and no parades.

But, in the late 1880s, motivated in part by the formation of a second major league, teams began to compete more aggressively for attention and fans

Greg Rhodes, Cincinnati team historian relates the history of Cincinnati Opening Day tradition:

"Opening day became the first salvo in the promotion wars of the baseball season. Over time, Cincinnati became the King of Opening Day in baseball. By 1900 most of the traditions we associate with Opening Day, were in place: capacity crowd at the ballpark, dignitaries and festivities, and the pre-game parade.

"No doubt part of the reason the opener was so celebrated in Cincinnati was a quirk of the schedule: The Reds are scheduled to open every season at home. It has been this way every year—with one exception—since the Reds first joined the National League in 1876. No other team is granted this privilege.

"Why the Reds were granted this honor in the first place has been lost to history, although it appears it was a combination of geography, opportunism, and money. In the early days of the National League, the Reds opened at home every season and apparently this was due to Cincinnati's location as the southern-most city in the league. Groundskeeping was in its infancy and fields were often a mess in the early spring. The more northern cities were happy to go on the road, and give up the opener for more comfortable conditions. Even when the Reds moved to a second major league—the American Association—for nine years in the 1880s, the Reds new league kept giving them the home opener. (Except in 1888, the only year the Reds were scheduled to open on the road.)"

(John Erardi and Gred Rhodes, Opening Day: Celebrating Cincinnati's Baseball Holiday, 2003)

So, baseball began promoting opening day more aggressively, and the Reds, led by business manager Frank Bancroft, had a built-in advantage with this schedule in hand. The Reds could make this an annual affair, and throughout the 1890s, after the Reds re-joined the National League, Bancroft tirelessly promoted the opener. And for that, Bancroft, or "Banny" as he was fondly called, is remembered as the "Father of Opening Day."

By the 1900s, the game was almost always sold out. Of course, that success helped insure that the Reds would keep getting the opener at home. The visiting clubs didn’t argue; after all they got a cut of the gate.And nearly everybody, in fact, was at the park. Often the Reds drew their largest crowd of the year on Opening Day. The Crosley Field Opening Day attendance record was set in 1924: over 35,000 somehow squeezed into the park built for a capacity crowd of under 30,000.

"The ancient inherited desire for thudding force ... has descended to the baseball bat .... Of all the inanimate objects in sports ... none is so intensely personal, so surrounded by lore as the ubiquitous Louisville slugger." -Thomas Boswell

Baseball and Keeping the Faith

Contrary to the beliefs of many fanatics, baseball itself is not a religion; however, according to Rev. Clyde F. Crews, the sport does incorporate four components that also inform all the major religious faiths of the world. These components are as follows:

1. Creed — A cosmology or comprehensive perception of the nature of reality beneath the mere seaming of life. Such a creed may be either explicit or implicit.

A. Baseball, as frequently noted by its philosophical friends, transcends time and space. It is not played against a clock, but creates its own time frame; its base lines stretch out, seemingly to infinity.

B. Baseball is about finality, the attainment of a place and goal designated "home."

2. Code — An ethic or way of action and behavior consequent upon such a perspective or creed.

Section One:  Baseball, even though it is obsessed with records and statistics, makes allowances for, even anticipates, human weakness and fallibility.

Section Two:  The game neatly blends relaxation and intensity. This is as true in the stands as it is on the field. The baseball stadium may be one of the last refuges in America for relaxed talk among friends.
Section Three:  Baseball highly prizes certain human values such as accuracy, the quick mind, the steady eye and the ability to respond quickly to the unexpected. Yet it acknowledges violence as part of human behavior and causes such drives to be acted out (usually) in a civilized fashion.

3. Ceremony — A set of rituals that provide worship, identity, formation and nurture for an individual and a society.

A. Baseball is suffused with "sacramentals," such as trading cards ("holy cards"), caps, jerseys and autographs (which are the most frequently sought "relics" of the game.)

B. Baseball has its own high holy-days (Opening Day, All-Star Game, World Series) and its shrines (Cooperstown, and some of those archetypal "green cathedrals" like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park) that bring a glaze to true fans' eyes.

C. Baseball games have incorporated into themselves an entire series of sub-rituals, from park ground rules down to the celebrity opening pitch and seventh-inning stretch.

4. Community — A linking of individuals to one another, as well as to a wider world of transcendence or significance through ceremony and carefully tended and intended relationships.

A. Baseball fosters loyalty, not only to a team, but to a city or metropolitan region. Each position on the field has its own "priest" in attendance with his own particular craft.

B. Baseball is saturated with narrative, anecdote and history as means of fostering identity and a community of continuity and memory. It holds up leaders of the past, both saints and sinners, as models and cautions to each new generation.

C. Baseball (despite its long, notorious exclusion of blacks until 1947) has functioned as an integrating factor in American life. Those at the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder have often made their own mark and a place of pride for their people through the game: e.g., Irish in the late 19th century; Hispanics in the last generation.
(Clyde F. Crews, "The Metaphysics of Baseball," America Weekly, April 4 1992)
Read Crews' entire article here:

"Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do ... is keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain young forever." -Roger Angell


Pete - the Rose of Cincinnati

The Holy Ground of Opening Day: Cincinnati Ohio

It is very apparent to me that the foremost historical significance of Opening Day has been lost. The Cincinnati Reds are no longer given the honor and privilege of playing the first game of the baseball season. Not only were the Reds baseball's first openly all-professional team, but also they essentially created and perpetuated the almost religious, traditional significance of Opening Day.

Keeping with everything sacred about the game, it is imperative that the Reds play the first game of the Major League Baseball year in Cincinnati.

But there's marketing and merchandising to be done -- that apparently means Japan. And, of course, this gives Japanese fans a chance to cheer Ichiro in person one more time.

Let's consider the significance of Opening Day. I believe these reasons should be sufficient support for making Cincinnati the Home of the Major League Baseball Opener.

1. The Creed of Baseball.

Support: The timeless game of professional baseball has its home in Cincinnati.

2. The Code of Baseball.

Support: Cincinnati, despite its relatively small market, celebrates Opening Day with relaxation, celebration, and intensity unrivaled by any other Major League Baseball city.

3. The Ceremony of Baseball.

Support: Besides being the birthplace of professional baseball, the City of Cincinnati has declared Opening Day an official city holiday to honor pro baseball and the history of the game itself.

4. The Community of Baseball.

Support: Cincinnati Nation is widespread geographically, perhaps like no other fan base in the Major Leagues. The states of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, Tennessee, ... on and on make up Reds Country, a land steeped in baseball history and full of rural fans dedicated to supporting their team. And, if it's saints and sinners, Cincy can talk the Black Sox scandal and Pete Rose.

“It’s a holiday—a baseball holiday! Ain’t no other place in America got that!”— Sparky Anderson on Opening Day in Cincy
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