The demands of television and of globalization have rendered the term Opening Day, singular, a misnomer. This year Major League Baseball's increasingly taxed schedulers had clubs beginning their regular-season schedules not on one day but on four. The Diamondbacks and the Dodgers kicked things off on March 22 at Sydney Cricket Grounds, in Australia; the Padres opened on March 30 (shot from the Goodyear blimp, left) against the Dodgers, who squeezed in three games before 27 other teams had played even one; and March 31 represented the start of things for most other clubs—but not, for some reason, the Yankees or the Astros, who waited until April 1. Altogether, it was enough to make one wonder whether Ozzie Smith's petition to have Opening Day declared a federal holiday had failed in part because no one at the White House could figure out which day the Wizard of Oz was talking about.
Misnomer aside, Opening Day remains as auspicious as any event on the American calendar. It is a more sure sign of spring's onset than Punxsutawney Phil, and one that comes particularly welcome this year, after a winter of polar vortices. It is also an annual reminder that anything can happen in baseball, and happen fast.
Recall, if you will, where we stood exactly one year ago this week. Back then the only thing the (largely beardless) Red Sox had to defend was a last-place finish in the AL East. Yasiel Puig? Nothing more than a mysterious Cuban minor leaguer. Jose Fernandez? A mere 20-year-old; he couldn't possibly be ready for the big leagues. Alex Rodriguez was sitting out because of a foul joint (his hip), not because he'd run afoul of the Joint Drug Agreement. And catchers could still be treated like tackling dummies, while umpires, yet bereft of expanded replay review, had it even worse.
Still, as the alt band Semisonic once warbled while philosophy majors nodded along in campus taprooms: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.
The more nostalgic among us noted that this year's Opening Day did not include Mariano Rivera, Todd Helton or Jim Leyland, and we wondered about who else in our lives was there last spring but not now.
We also realized: This was the last time we'd watch Derek Jeter trot out to shortstop with a full season of possibility ahead. Jeter has been a constant for a generation—longer than Kevin Garnett has been in the NBA, longer than Adam Vinatieri in the NFL—and now the end of that has begun. Jeter's impending retirement isn't a tragedy. He's made some $250 million in his career, but his imminent departure does provide the opportunity for introspection, starting with his last Opening Day. As we focus on all that lies ahead, we might take a minute to appreciate that even Derek Jeter can get old and that things will never again be exactly the same as they are at this very moment, when another season's first pitches are being made.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DONALD MIRALLE FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
March 30, 7:10 p.m. PDT DODGERS AT PADRES As night falls on San Diego, the rival Dodgers fall 3--1 in an NL West matchup.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM LYNN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
March 31, 2:24 p.m. CDT BRAVES AT BREWERS Aramis Ramirez's two-run double in the fourth fueled Milwaukee's 2--0 victory.
PHOTOGRAPH BY FRED VUICH FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
March 31, 4:31 p.m. EDT CUBS AT PIRATES The first career walk-off homer for Neil Walker (far left) won it in the 10th, 1--0.