We know the ice will melt, the snow must surely stop, the buds have to appear and the actual cardinals and blue jays will finally see the point of making their nests. At some point spring becomes reality and stops being the faint hope of the winter-worn.
Opening Day is different. Yes, baseball is about to start for real (if we ignore the weird prequel at the Sydney Cricket Ground between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks). Yes, it’s time to reset the clocks of fandom to 2014 from 2013, and rediscover the belief that a team with a 0-0 record has as good a chance as the Yankees or the Red Sox of going all the way.
But come on. You can’t fool us twice in a row. Nobody who experienced the 2013 season, at least as a dumbstruck and doom-laden fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, will ever again let hope put one over on experience.
If we go back a year, to that glorious and delirious week or two just before Opening Day – which culminated in a 4-1 loss to the Indians, and three passed balls by the derided and departed catcher J.P. Arencibia – our Canadian team was a sure thing for postseason play.
Maybe we weren’t certain of being World Series winners – that was our idea of a reality check back then, before vaunted utilityman Emilio Bonifacio proved conclusively that he couldn’t play any position well. Maybe, if worst came to worst and the oddsmakers were overly optimistic, we’d have to settle for a wild-card berth and earn our way to glory the hard way.
But all that off-season wheeling-and-dealing orchestrated by our brilliant young general manager Alex Anthopoulos was bound to turn out beautifully. Pity us now, but back then we thought it was more than enough to add R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera and even the now-departed Josh Johnson to a lineup that boasted (but in a modest and likeable Canadian way) the power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Flush with our big-market pride, we didn’t have to count on Adam Lind clubbing 23 home runs or Colby Rasmus matching his career-high batting average. We had stars in our eyes – little knowing that a post-game, walk-off interview with Munenori Kawasaki would end up being one of the season highlights.
Munenori can now be found in Triple-A Buffalo, for those who like his protracted at-bats and high-energy Japenglish and physical embodiment of the game’s intangibles – another way of saying that we’re still searching for that elusive second-baseman who can swing a bat.
Still, it’s Opening Day and the calendar tells us the time has finally come to let the past go. Let’s pretend 2013 never was, at least at the Blue Jays level. That’s really the only way to move forward and harness the fan’s ability to balance belief with acceptance. Baseball is going to happen regardless, and baseball is good, for anyone who acknowledges the pleasure of the knee-buckling curve, the diving stab, the deft scoop in the dirt, the no-hop throw from right to catch the runner at the plate, the stand-up triple, the bunt against the shift, the accumulation of unexpected things done perfectly that add up to a good game.
Allegiance to a team is a form of deeper engagement, a way to care beyond the theoretical and the reasonable. I know Mike Trout is the second coming of Mickey Mantle, minus the wonky knees and boozy nights, but I don’t really know Mike Trout the way I know Jose Bautista. I’ve given myself over to his at-bats, watched his grimaces at marginal called strikes, shared his frustration at pitches off the plate he’s had to swing at because not every power hitter can be a Joey Votto and let the parade of junk pass by. I like baseball more because I’ve made it personal, felt the pain, appropriated the pleasure, realized I was holding my breath with bases loaded in the ninth and a 3-2 count (and understood in the heat of the moment that passion is a legal high).