On Opening Day Hope springs eternal!

     Today is the day the "boys of summer" return, the day when the aroma of hot dogs and peanuts waft through the stands, the day when the national pasttime takes center stage. It is a day when we put aside the troubles and futilities of life and drift back to a time when things were innocent, when rounding third heading for home was akin to "not getting any better than this." It's Opening Day which, translated for non-sports fans, means once the umpire shouts "Play Ball!" the Baseball season officially begins in cities across the land. The traditional opener where the "first pitch" takes place is in Cincinnati where it always has been. In fact, Cyndi can fondly recall her dad taking her to a few Opening Day Games in the Queen City in old Crosley Field with the slanted terrace outfield warning track where in some years it was so icy one could sled out there rather than equate it with a "summer game." This year there shouldn't be any snow when the "Reds" host the "Padres" from San Diego, a team Cyndi and I have had a special affinity for since their inception in 1968, both because they're the home town team and because of their nickname. After all, how can you root against a team with the moniker "Padres." To do so is like slapping your pastor in the face, after all, he's a Padre. So was Saint Francis, Saint Anthony, and the rest. It's a good association and we love the relationship. Then there are the "Cardinals." Many will point out that this refers to the redbird with the tuft of feathers on his head, but don't tell that to the countless St. Louis Catholics who assimilate their beloved team to a conclave of saints! Can't forget the "Angels" of Anaheim, but since they're now owned by the Disney Corporation we'd have to say they're not the angelic cherubs they once were. Football has the "Saints," College has the "Friars" such as in Providence; but most teams don't have a religious connotation and that, for the most part, is a good thing. Think about it. Football, hockey and even basketball now days are violent sports and for the Saints to kill someone just doesn't sound right. There are other monikers such as "Fighting Irish" which seem to fit the stereotype of the immigrant sons of Eire who fought for everything they had in the sense of poverty, hardship and religious persecution. You could have called the early martyrs the "Fighting Christians" for they indeed fought to preserve the faith. Even some could make a case that Jesus could have been called the "Angry Almighty" when He discovered what the temple was being used for. But we won't go that far. Nevertheless, what we're trying to point out is that while many of these sports carry a violent, rough, winner-take-all, take-no-prisoners mentality, baseball stands apart as a calming sport where the only confrontation comes with a brushback pitch now and then, with a manager challenging one of the seeing-impaired umpires, or someone sliding hard into second base. Other than that, managers and coaches have had to counsel their charges not to fraternize with the other team before a game. And that's what it is, a game. As beloved announcer Jerry Coleman, Voice of the Padres for nearly three decades, always says. "It's a beautiful day. The sun is out, the grass is green and it's time for baseball just as God planned it." While we may laugh at that there is truism there for we can just imagine the Master Creator contemplating a pasttime for His people to keep them out of trouble. If He had baseball in mind, He waited too long for the good of countless centuries of mankind who never had the thrill of cheering their son or daughter on the diamond, watching their favorite team on a balmy summer day or evening, and the comraderie that being at the ol' ballpark affords. Watching baseball is like allowing time to stand still.

     For years, while growing up in Minnesota this editor was a big "Twins" fan before migrating to San Diego after my college years. I can remember my greatest thrill was in 1965 working the pressbox as a U of M journalism intern (yes, they had interns back then, but not the notorious type of today) at old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota and how the Twin Cities went crazy over the "Twinkies" for that was the first year the Minnesota team went to the World Series as well as hosting their first All-Star game. It was a time one can still feel and taste today, as if it were just yesterday. Remember that phrase above about "time standing still?" Probably one of the fondest memories was watching the good, holy pious nuns - the St. Joseph Sisters, the Benedictines, the Notre Dame Sisters, Sisters of Mercy, and other orders - sitting there in box seats rooting for their team, habits flowing and flying! Everybody credited their presence as one of the reasons for the Twins' success that year. But other cities have their religious contingents at games. Just look around Wrigley Field on any afternoon during the Summer, or along the baseline at Fenway Park in Boston, or sitting behind the dugout in the New Camden Yards in Baltimore. Don't forget the fervent followers who pray for their teams in Catholic strongholds such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, even New York, Cleveland and many other cities throughout the country; even bible-belt places like Arlington, Texas, Atlanta, Kansas City and Houston have their diocesan dandies pulling for their favorites. We can't forget the "Dodger" contingent born in old Ebbets Field in where die-hard Catholics bequeathed their seats to priests and nuns so God would always smile on "da Bums." West Coasters would say He did when they moved to Los Angeles, but Brooklynites would argue that and latch onto a new loyalty - the "Mets." No matter where you go, baseball fever reaches from the pulpit to the bleachers where people of all faiths cheer in unison for their teams. Yet, if they don't win, they don't hang their heads and curse the heavens, they don't take it out on others, or feel depressed because, after all, it's baseball, and, unlike football, there's another game tomorrow! Hope springs eternal!

     The point is that life is a lot like baseball, because no matter how down we might feel, how discouraging we might view things today, tomorrow always holds hope! Jesus assured this when He gave us the Sacraments and His Holy Church along with the promise that He would be with us always and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Like baseball, we can't win them all, we can't pitch a perfect game every day, we can't bat 1.000 throughout life. That's the beauty of the game and the beauty of life, we can play .300 and be a success, but no matter what average we hit for, if we follow the rules of the game and life - and what God has asked - we can't help but be contenders. Oh, the world, the flesh and the devil will score against us; we'll be thrown for a curve now and then, a spitter or slider might knock us down, we'll make some errors and give up quite a few walks as well as striking out once in awhile, but the Big Manager in the sky won't pull us. He won't demote us to the minors if we show we're really trying, if we're giving it all we've got and striving to do whatever He asks. He constantly encourages us and has even sent His Number One Cheerleader - His very Own Blessed Mother to urge us on. When we finally gell, when we work in cooperation, then we form a team, working in unison with God and our fellow man. If we can do that, we'll win our share of games and definitely be there for the final Series. Unlike baseball, however, where no one knows who is going to win it all, we've got a lock on the Celestine Championship Trophy if we play ball with God! Assured of this, we can be confident of our chances because, on Opening Day, Hope springs eternal!

Michael Cain, editor

Daily CATHOLIC          March 31, 1998