Opinion: Why baseball’s Opening Day is the real New Year’s Day

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Happy New Year!

Don’t be confused. It’s not actually January 1. Nor is it Rosh Hashanah, the holiday that marks the start of the Jewish calendar. But in my book, it might as well be the beginning of the year.

It’s the Opening Day of baseball season, after all.

As a lifelong fan of America’s national pastime, there’s no day that speaks to me more about new beginnings. There’s the obvious: In the first day of the season, every team starts with a clean slate. Which means that lowly club you root for — in my case, the Miami Marlins — has the same record as the Houston Astros, last season’s World Series winner. The same is true for the players: Everyone is a potential batting champion or pitching ace.

Of course, it’s similar for other sports and their opening days. But baseball is different in that its opening comes soon after the arrival of spring, when the world itself goes through a blossoms-start-to-bloom process of reawakening. By contrast, January 1 comes as winter’s chill is starting to set in — and, unless you live in a tropical climate, it’s hard to feel reawakened when you’re bundled in three layers of clothes.

But it goes deeper than that. Baseball works on a 162-game schedule where teams play almost every day until the beginning of October. It provides a rhythm that mimics the rhythm of everyday life, so that calendar resetting carries extra weight — meaning it’s the beginning of a renewed daily routine. You can’t say the same for the start of football season in the fall: What kind of groove can you truly get into with a sport where teams play once a week?

No wonder baseball and baseball fans celebrate the day with all sorts of fanfare. Teams have ceremonies to introduce the players. Every sports writer on the planet offers predictions about how the season will play out.

My beloved Miami Marlins, who open the season at home today against the New York Mets, have even gone so far as to provide pre-written excuse notes so kids can attend the big first day. Speaking of which, I’ve always loved the fact that most opening-day games take place in the afternoon on a weekday — the temptation to play hooky makes the occasion all the more fun.

Naturally, we have to accept the fact that baseball no longer holds quite the place in our culture as it did decades ago. Annual attendance has dropped from nearly 80 million in 2007 to about 65 million last year. The sport has continually changed its structure and rules to attract new fans who want a game that plays out a little quicker and offers a little more bang for the buck: This season, for example, pitchers will be be timed so they can’t dawdle on the mound.

All this matters little to me. I’ll take my baseball in almost any form — well, so long as it’s played out for a season that begins at this time of year and runs those 162 games.

Ironically, for all my love of Opening Day, I’ve only made it once to a stadium for the occasion — mainly because I’ve always found it difficult to take the time off from school or work. The year was 1985 and the New York Mets were my team. I braved what turned out to be a decidedly winter-like spring day in the Big Apple and watched the Mets battle the St. Louis Cardinals in a contest that stretched nearly four hours. No matter how much hot chocolate and coffee I drank, I couldn’t fight off that chill in the air.

But who cared? The Mets won it in the 10th inning on a Gary Carter home run. It was like a new year’s wish fulfilled.

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