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Ashway: There’s still life in the old game
Denton Ashway

Happy Opening Day!

Against long odds, the day baseball fans feel should be a national holiday has finally arrived. Not even the combined ineptitude of Commissioner Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLB Players Association, could prevent the execution of a new collective bargaining agreement.

So very nice that the owners and players could decipher a method of slicing up a multibillion-dollar pie. Nicer still that everyone came to their senses before games were lost and more fans were alienated.

At times it seems that baseball’s primary goal is driving fans away from the game. Left unchecked, the game has devolved into one of inaction, where strikeouts and walks predominate, and home runs take precedence over putting runners on base and watching them run.

How many casual fans are willing to devote the three hours it takes to view the average game? Imagine how much breaking news can be missed on social media during that time.

The season begins in spring, but try telling that to the hearty, brave souls who attend a game at Wrigley Field in April. And it ends in the fall, when pennant races and playoffs vie with football for fans’ attention.

And don’t get me started on that cockamamie rule that places a runner on second base to start extra innings.

But all the negatives fail to override the beauty of the game to those who have fallen in love with it. They wouldn’t trade a summer of baseball for anything. The daily drama, the comfort of settling in each evening to watch your favorite team, listening to the familiar voices, imagining how the long season might play out, remains a sublime pleasure.

Some fans count the days until baseball returns. Some refuse to watch any spring training games, making Opening Day extra special. Many believe that Cincinnati has the right idea. As the home of baseball’s first professional team, the Reds used to open their season a day ahead of everyone else. To make the day more festive, the Opener was preceded by the Findlay Market Parade.

No work. No school. Just a day to celebrate baseball’s return.

“It’s a holiday!” longtime Reds manager Sparky Anderson observed. “Ain’t no other place in America got that!”

I still recall the first time Opening Day coincided with my birthday. I decided to make it a personal holiday. The first game up was the Indians opener at brand-new Jacobs Field. President Clinton threw out the first pitch, and the Indians beat the Mariners, 4-3, in 11 innings.

Then the Braves opened in San Diego. The incomparable Greg Maddox threw eight shoutout innings, Deion Sanders and Ryan Klesko homered, and the Braves won, 4-1.

Memories. That’s what makes baseball so special. How amazing that those two Opening Day games would be retained with such clarity. But I still remember racing home from school to watch World Series games with my mom. And till the day he died, my dad recalled the night we were watching a game, and the ball caromed off the outfield wall right into the nose of Ken Griffey, Sr.

I remember like it was yesterday being surrounded by my family as the 2004 Red Sox ended 86 years of frustration and uncorked an ocean of euphoria.

Braves fans will always retain vivid memories of last season’s mad dash from mediocrity to the World Series championship. But to really appreciate how a baseball team can still captivate a populace, you needed to look beyond the playing field.

The sight of thousands of Braves fans gathering at The Battery en masse watching the Series games from Houston stands as proof that there’s life in the old game yet. And that proof was reinforced by the throngs that come out for the Braves’ victory parade.

Baseball remains a game to love, warts and all. Especially when a season ends with a memory like this. Here’s Ben Ingram, from November 2, 2021:

“Nothing and two. Smith comes set at the tomahawk, 0-2 on the way. Chopper, out to Dansby, heeee, Dansby throws to first base … is this happening? It is! The Atlanta Braves are World Champions! The Atlanta Braves have won the 2021 World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

“General euphoria down on the field, as they’re bouncing all over the infield. Celebration going on on the field, and folks, this is what dreams are made of! And for the 2021 Atlanta Braves, the dream has come true. They are World Champions in 2021. What an incredible moment, and a wonderful time for all of us.”