Baseball used to be America’s past time, but those days of yesteryear when shouts of “play ball” could be heard resonating throughout the land at Major League parks, Little League fields or neighborhood sand lots are well behind us. One could argue that NFL Football, Major League Soccer, NHL Hockey or even NASCAR have all surpassed baseball as our near and dear national sport obsession. Except, that is, on “Opening Day”.
Opening Day at any Major League park in the United States and Canada is a big deal – a very big deal! Usually stadiums are sold out as fans enjoy this century-long right of spring to root for their local nine on the green grass of home, drink overpriced beer, eat hotdogs, sing the National Anthem, and, generally speaking, act like kids again. It’s a rousing good time!
Last night (April 15, 2022), I took in the Seattle Mariners home opener, in which the Ms were matched up against the much dreaded and much hated Houston Astros before a standing room only crowd of 45,000-plus. Myself and many of my fellow members of the Mariners’ Experience Guest crew haven’t been around that many unmasked people for that many hours since the Pandemic started and the mask mandates were lifted.
All of what we have gone through these past two years – adhering to health protocols, social distancing, mask wearing, hand-washing, and the like – quickly evaporated, though, as the festivities got underway at T-Mobile Park.
People were generally friendly and jovial as they made their way to their seats, many with adult beverages, garlic fries, nachos and other fast-food concoctions in their hands. Down on the playing field, a crew unfolded a magenta-colored carpet from the tunnel in center field. A whole host of folks – all in matching uniforms – lined either side of the carpet, some holding Mariners flags.
Soon after the team was introduced – first pitchers, then bench players (or non-starters for this particular game), then the starting line-up. Amazingly, highly-touted rookie Julio Rodriquez, who’s only played in a handful of games in the Majors, received the most applause – a testament one might say to just how eager the Mariners fan base is to having another home grown superstar emerge, a la Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, or Alex Rodriquez.
Next – as fans continued their rousing applause – a huge American flag was unfurled in the outfield, and Seattle guitarist Ayron Jones – perhaps channeling a more famous Seattle axe man, Jimmy Hendrix – played the National Anthem with no vocal accompaniment. It reminded me of seeing Hendrix (on film, of course) doing the same bit at Woodstock more than 50 years ago.
Speaking of nostalgia, Ichiro Suzuki’s – the Mariners’ future Hall of Famer and Major League’s all-time hits leader – threw out the ceremonial first pitch. It wasn’t the usual soft toss you get from most celebrities making this effort, it was an actual wind-up and hard throw to the awaiting Julio Rodriquez, who was at the plate catching the ball – an apparent effort by the Mariners to tie the old with the new.
The game was exciting from the get-go for home fans, as they rained down boos on Astros star Jose Altuve and other Houston players over the 2017 cheating scandal that allowed their batsmen to have a heads up to what the opposing pitcher was going to throw. Avid fans – like those at last night’s game, most of whom were dressed in Mariners regalia – have long memories.
In case you missed the game, it was a blowout in favor of the local nine, as Mariners starter Marco Gonzalez pitched seven strong innings and the Mariner batters put up 11 runs, to win in a landslide score of 11-1. As giddy fans raced to the exits, it was a night many of them soon won’t forget – just like an Opening Day is supposed be!
If you didn’t see the game, here are some highlights: https://www.mlb.com/video/astros-vs-mariners-highlights-x3740?msclkid=2f940101bdaa11ec9db01299c9562ed4
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