My own private Opening Dayby Frank Jackson
February 28, 2013
No doubt readers of this web site have March 31 and April 1 marked on their calendars, virtual or hard copy, if not etched into the memory sector of their gray matter. The Rangers and the Astros will meet on national television on the former date, and every other major league team will open the regular season on the latter.
That Opening Day will coincide with April Fool’s Day fairly begs for commentary, if not wisecracks, depending on what team you’re talking about. Come to think of it, considering the Astros open on Easter Sunday, could you name another franchise more sorely in need of resurrection? Of course, the visiting teams on Opening Day are twice blessed, as they will have a second Opening Day when they start their home season.
For whatever reason, Opening Day is a big deal for baseball, but not so much for other sports. For football, basketball, soccer, ice hockey, or whatever, opening day would not be worthy of capital letters. It’s just the first game of the regular season. I’m thinking baseball gets more attention because Opening Day more or less occurs as springtime is taking hold on the land, so it taps into some sort of quasi-pagan consciousness. As part of the opening ceremonies, a Maypole would not be out of place, even though it would be a month early.
To my way of thinking, baseball’s real Opening Day is the first day of the year I see a baseball game in person. Normally, that will happen long before the official major league Opening Day. In fact, some years it happens long before spring training exhibition games start. And there are some years when it starts even before the training camps open. 2013 is such a year.
College baseball starts in February. The NCAA Division I teams don’t open till the third weekend of the month, supposedly to level the playing field so the sun belt teams won’t be so far ahead of the teams from the northern tier of the country.
The NCAA Division II and III teams, as well as NAIA teams can start their seasons earlier. This year that was the weekend of Feb. 1-3, which offered me three options. Two of them were NAIA contests (University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma at Northwood University; Mid-America Christian at Texas Wesleyan University), but I chose an NCAA Division III match, Texas Lutheran University at the University of Dallas.
Despite its name, the University of Dallas is in Irving, Tex. I think some clarification is in order here. Keeping in mind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, how about something like the University of Dallas Crusaders of Irving? Another institutional quirk: Despite its name, which certainly sounds public and secular, the University of Dallas is not only private but Catholic.
UD is not the only geographically-challenged school in the area. The University of Texas at Dallas (also Division III) is in Richardson, Texas. Dallas Baptist University, the only Division I school in Dallas County, is within the city limits of Dallas—but just barely.
The Crusaders’ opening day was Saturday, Feb. 2. It was not a good day, as they lost a double-header to Texas Lutheran by 8-7 and 15-1 scores. I couldn’t make it that day, as I had some home repair issues. So my personal opening day would have to be postponed 24 hours.
But that was all right, as Sunday, Feb. 3, was a good day to sit outside and watch a game. This is not something to be taken for granted in North Texas. Such weather isn’t that unusual in February, but you can’t count on it; all you can do is exploit it when it’s present.
To attend a day game and remain comfortable in the sunshine the whole time is almost impossible during Ranger games. Today, however, I can move around without breaking a sweat or I can sit still without shivering. Meteorologically, I wouldn’t change a thing, yet on this day I note one timid soul in the stands deploying an umbrella to fend off that fierce winter sunshine.
At the major league level, Opening Day can be expensive if you are not fortunate enough to secure tickets at face value. Of course, you get a lot more pageantry than with the other 161 games on the schedule: bunting, color guards, flyovers, extended player introductions, marching bands, parachutists, flag-raising, a celebrity singing the national anthem... some of the aforementioned, maybe all the aforementioned, maybe something unexpected.
In sharp contrast, my own private Opening Day is decidedly Spartan—but priced accordingly. Unlike professional franchises, colleges do not always charge admission. The University of Dallas is one such institution. Since the Dallas Area Rapid Transit recently opened a station adjacent to the campus and I have an annual transit pass, it cost me nothing to get there. I didn’t see a concession stand at the ballpark, so it was absolutely impossible for me to spend money at this ball game—an extremely rare situation. My money’s no good here. Neither is anyone else’s.
Unfortunately, the minimalist approach to staging a baseball game meant there were no scorecards. I brought one of my own, but I had forgotten to print out roster sheets from the internet. Clearly, I am far from midseason form and in need of trimming that mental flab.
There were no names on the backs of the uniforms, but I wasn’t flying totally blind. A loudspeaker system, more or less the equivalent of an ad hoc arrangement for a backyard party, had been set up. I didn’t see anything that looked like a press box, so I wasn’t sure where the voice was coming from. The speaker fidelity was less than crystal clear so I had to guess on some of the names. I’m not hooked on phonics, but I am hooked on keeping score, so in some cases I had to be content with phonetic spelling.
For the most part, the University of Dallas names were audible and recognizable... Thornton, Vargas, Pierce, Johnson, Farris, Allred, McRoberts. Catcher Dylan Wadyko was another matter. Over the loudspeaker, it sounded vaguely Japanese, and I tried to spell it accordingly. I was way off... about as far as the distance from Ukraine to Japan.
Texas Lutheran was far more challenging. In my score book, I had Tony Genusa with two “n”s; Christian DeBlanc I had down as Christian LeBlanc; Jennings Boothe appeared without the “e” on the end; as for Von Wendel, I added an extra “l” at the end of his name; Derek Kanas I totally botched; Klaus Bohrmann I had down as “Boorman.” Actually, I thought he was executed after the Nuremberg trials. Obviously I was wrong. I thought he’d be older.
Another problem with depending on the public address announcer is that he sometimes omits information, such as the name of the UD starting pitcher. A right-hander wearing No. 14 took the mound, but I didn’t know his name till I checked the box score after the fact. Turns out his name was Joshua Crapps, which is an open invitation to wallow in adolescent humor.
On this Sunday afternoon, that name is something of a misnomer, as he goes six innings and gives up just one run. I think any coach or manager at any level would be happy with that effort for the first start of the season.
Interesting to note that Crapps is one of four UD players to hail from Anchorage, Alaska. The next biggest source of players (three) is The Woodlands, Tex., a planned community north of Houston that is something of a prep baseball hotbed. Three players from The Woodlands is no surprise at a Texas college, but four natives of Anchorage dropping anchor at UD definitely defies the odds. Obviously, the Alaska pipeline doesn’t terminate at Valdez any more.
Once underway, the game is played cleanly, quickly and crisply. Crusader Field itself appears to be in decent shape for opening weekend. In fact, as the game unfolds, there is only one error and one bad hop, though not on the same play.
On the whole, both teams seem to be in good form. Oftentimes, during these early season college games, the players look a bit out of synch. There is no grapefruit or cactus league for college ball; they just jump right into the regular season. February fuzziness is understandable.
I watched the entire game while standing behind first base. I could have moved around but I was satisfied with the perspective. One of the benefits of college ball is fan mobility. Generally, the smaller the institution the greater the mobility. If you decide you don’t like where you’re sitting, go sit somewhere else; if you decide you’d rather stand, you can usually do so close to the field. If you want a little elevation, there’s often a berm or a hill close by, and such is the case at Crusader Field. In fact, the field is surrounded by a densely wooded area, which is likely a treasure trove of unretrieved foul balls by the end of the season.
At the end of nine innings the score is tied 1-1. An extra inning is required to settle the affair in favor of Texas Lutheran, 2-1. The box score says the time of game was two hours and 51 minutes. That squares with my scorecard. Attendance is listed at 181. How they came up with that figure without ticket sales or a turnstile is beyond me.
So my personal Opening Day coincides with the last game of a three-game sweep of the University of Dallas at home. Their woes continued as they traveled to Brownwood, Texas to meet Howard Payne University and lost two more contests. Since then, they have righted the ship, and as I write this, their record is 5-6. Still plenty of time to rise to the top of the SCAC (Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference) over Centenary College, Austin College, Trinity University and Southwestern University.
So the curtain came down on my own private Opening Day, more than two months before the Rangers’ home opener. But there was still plenty of daylight left. On the way home, I felt my day would be incomplete if I didn’t spend some money somewhere, so I got off the train to pay a visit to a legendary beer joint called Club Schmitz.
If there is a Hall of Fame for dive bars, this place (founded in 1946) would be elected on the first ballot. You can get a mug of beer for $2 and the menu is wall-to-wall artery-clogging concoctions. As if that weren’t enough, you can even buy a T-shirt with a slogan about getting “Schmitz-faced.” Could you ask for better way to bring your Opening Day to a close?
My own private Opening Day for 2013 is not the earliest date I have ever witnessed a baseball game. Last year I saw Texas Wesleyan University start the season on Jan. 31. This is the only game I’ve ever seen during the first month of the year. I would like nothing more than to witness a midnight game right after the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. It’s highly unlikely, but it sure would be a nifty addition to the Mexican or Caribbean winter league schedule.
Even so, Feb. 3, 2013 is a respectably early beginning for my baseball season. Of course, that was also the date of the Super Bowl, but as that annual event gets more and more bloated, it resonates less and less with me. Granted, it sits atop the heap of mass media sports experiences, but it just doesn’t compare to my own private Opening Day.
Frank Jackson has published previous baseball articles in National Pastime and Elysian Fields Quarterly. He was weaned on baseball at Connie Mack Stadium.