Opening Day. Then, The Grind. Bring it.

“This ain’t football. We do this every day.” — Earl Weaver

We do, indeed. Those of us who have so much of our lives entangled with baseball – players, coaches, managers, clubbies, trainers, scouts, team executives, broadcasters, beat writers — do it just about every day from mid-February until October, and for the lucky ones they do it for several more weeks after that.

But today isn’t like any other day. It’s Opening Day. The day that so many writers, good and bad, try their best to pen something meaningful before gametime and usually end up overwriting more than any other day of the year. Not for lack of interest or passion, but because of too much of one or both.

The Hammer and Teddy Ballgame. Just because.

The Hammer and Teddy Ballgame. Just because.

We want this to be special, just like you do. We love this. And, well, adrenaline or nervous energy or whatever takes over sometimes, just like it does for some players.

But as wonderful as Opening Day is, one of the best things about it, to be honest, is when it’s over.

Because once it’s over, that’s when we start the real grind begins. The demanding but addictive task of players, coaching, scouting, covering or otherwise working those next 161 games.

Today is about pomp and rejuvenation, about casual fans outnumbering the rabid fans, about pregame introductions and flyovers, about unrealistic expectations and vows of love for the game by some who do, but some who just like to be part of it a few times a year on special occasions.

It’s about corporate suites bursting with corporate suits, management types playing hooky and toasting each other as much as toasting the team. Those folks will be gone by Game 2, but the fans with the Braves jerseys and T-shirts and caps, paying more than they know they can responsibly afford to pay for beers or Cokes and hot dogs and Cracker Jacks? They’ll be back. Love of the game.

Love of the game also fuels acceptance, or even a strange love of, the grind.

The grind that costs many of us marriages, or at least prevents balanced lives. The grind that blinds us to other potential career pursuits until it’s too late and we’re just a small but entrenched part of this great game that goes on, and on, and on.

And we wouldn’t change a damn thing about that, which I guess makes us masochists of a sort. But satisfied, in some way hard to describe to those outside of it.

Because even if some of us — in the pressbox, on the field or in the clubhouse, or in the broadcast booth — seem grumpy at times, or maybe even most of the time, we also have a big, secret pocket of fulfillment and satisfaction in our seemingly cold hearts. Because we’re thankful to be here, and we appreciate every minute of it, night after night after day after night.

The ballpark as your office? Yeah, that doesn’t suck.

opening_day16All those 10-hour days, 12-hour days, sometimes even 14-hour days. All those 5 a.m. wakeup calls for the first flight out of town in the midst of a multi-city road trip, with a game the night before in San Francisco and a game tonight in Phoenix. Those two-hour rain delays in Philly or Pittsburgh or here in Atlanta, when the next day’s game will be played and you’re going to be there, because that’s the job.

For the players, all those days and nights away from the wife and young kid(s) at home. All those mornings waking with throbbing shoulders or sore elbows and tossing back those anti-inflammatories like they’re gummy bears before breakfast….and then again with lunch….and dinner. Sometimes forgetting what it’s like to not be on anti-inflammatories until the first few days after the season ends.

If you’re contract isn’t large and/or guaranteed, there’s not knowing if you’re going to be called into the manager’s office during spring training and told you’re going to the minors or, worse yet, that you’re on your own, released, and good luck finding another team before the season begins.

For the manager, not knowing if the howls of the fans when your undermanned team gets off to a predictable rough start, not knowing if those howls might eventually persuade upper management to change its mind about your future. And the coaches, in most cases their future tied direction to the manager, not being able to control anything when those decisions are made.

And the road-warrior scouts, whose lives can be changed at any moment when the organization decides to go in a different direction, or cut back on bodies and increase the use of computer. Phone rings, and a minute later they could be looking for work in a very small field, with a resume and skill set that doesn’t lend itself to a broad range of employment opportunities.

And the clubbies, aka clubhouse attendants and clubhouse managers, the guys who absolutely work as hard as anyone in an organization, and longer hours than anyone, and do it for salaries that are a tiny fraction of those they help every day, all day. Tip your cap to one some time when you see them in the dugout or on the field. Because, people, I can’t express to you how much they deserve it.

Your  teams couldn’t do it without clubbies. The whole thing would be a mess without them. And if you think you have a lot invested in your team as a fan, think about this: clubbies can double or triple their annual pay if their team gets to the playoffs and the players vote to give them a full or partial postseason share, and players do because they understand more than anyone how crucial the clubbies are.

Love of the game. Cliche, perhaps. But so true. Up and down the line. Folks do it for years, decades, because it’s at first a part of you, then practically becomes you. Good or bad. Probably the latter. But there it is. And most wouldn’t change it if they could.

The grind. Everyone in the game experiences it, and in most cases it’s profound. Shapes lives. And if you don’t love it, if you don’t appreciate something or everything about it, then you will not be around it for long. Can’t be. It won’t work if you come to it expecting it to be like any other comparable job in your field. If you expect it to be like any other beat, or like any other service-industry job, or like any other management position where you can go home every night to the wife and kids.

Or, if you expect to play once a week and have the rest of the week to take care of the bruises and study the gameplan for the next opponent.

As Earl Weaver said, this ain’t football. We do this every day.

Today, it’s Opening day. After that, the grind really begins.

 

• Let’s close with this one from The Baseball Project and sung by Mike Mills, great dude, ardent Braves fan and bassist/super-utilityman from the mighty R.E.M. #MurphHOF

“TO THE VETERANS COMMITTEE” by The Baseball Project

Murph

Murph

Submitted here for your consideration
A man who needs no qualifications
Character, ability, sportsmanship, integrity
These are the things that you require
And he’s got them in spades

Two MVP’s and five gold gloves
Atlanta fans’ undying love
And though he heard the voices like the rest
He stayed out of the vipers’ nest
He chose to play with just his best
And that’s why I feel good to say

I want to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame
I want to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame

Forget about the liars
All the Sosas and McGuires

I want to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame

They say 400 is the magic number
But Murphy hit 398
You can’t tell me that isn’t great
And that’s why I don’t want to wait

To see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame
I want to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame

Forget about the cheaters
And all the steroid eaters

I want to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame
I want to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame
I want to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame
I want to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame

 

 


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