An Allegany Radio Corporation Sports Column By Mike Burke

Until better days

MIKE BURKE
Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are officially postponed. It’s the first time in history an Olympics has been postponed.

It wasn’t very long ago (and by not long ago, we’re talking a number of days, not years, or even weeks) that this would have sent shock waves through the entire world, much less the sports world. The Olympics postponed? For what? They didn’t even stop the Olympics after terrorists invaded the Olympic village and killed athletes in cold blood … 

It’s all different now and some would have us believe it happened just like that. But, it didn’t. What is new, though, and freshly cutting, is the numbness with which we take the news of major world events being bumped off schedule for any period of time; and, obviously, the Olympics is a major world event.

The start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season was to have been this week — Thursday, in fact, was to have been Opening Day. Now the hope is for a June Opening Day, if at all; with “if at all” now being flat-line matter of fact in our current-day vernacular.

Of all the days on the sporting calendar, no day carries the universal charge that Opening Day carries, even for non-baseball people, if there really is such a thing. For not only is it the day on which the game begins, it is the day, as A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote, “when everything else begins again …”

The arrival of the baseball season, you see, brings us to the doorstep of hope, where all things are possible, and it fills us with comfort because, “You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive …”

This has been the day, for as long as I can remember, that I absolutely lived for through the other 364 days of a given year — or at least for the 150 or so that separated the final pitch of a World Series from the first pitch of a new season.

Yet in truth, even when the season is under way, until you find yourself knee deep in pennant race (which doesn’t happen very often), Opening Day is always that most special day, not unlike that one special girl who, no matter what has happened or is happening in your life since, will always force you to give pause, no matter what you’re doing at the moment, just so you can remember her.

The 1983 Opening Day in Baltimore featured the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, and if you have ever been to an Opening Day in Baltimore, you understand it is nothing short of a holiday. It has always been the day, be it at Memorial Stadium or Camden Yards, when the city and the people of Baltimore are at their finest and happiest. The sun always shines in Baltimore on Opening Day, even on the ones when it snows. 

The city shuts down, yet is always at its fullest, because everybody has spent their winter finagling their work schedules months in advance and making deals with the devil for Opening Day tickets so they can be downtown, at Washington Boulevard-Russell Street Square and then at the ballpark to welcome back the Orioles.

On this particular Opening Day at Memorial Stadium in our splendid neighborhood of Waverly, the Royals made short work of the Orioles and the day, winning the game, 7 to 2. And afterward a reporter asked Orioles right fielder Dan Ford for his thoughts on what must have been such a tremendous letdown to have lost on Opening Day, given what high hopes the Orioles had for the season.

“Well,” Ford reasoned, “we’ll probably lose 20 or 30 more …”

The Orioles, in fact, would lose 63 more, which means they won 98, which was easily enough for them to win the American League East on their way to winning the American League pennant, as well as the World Series.

In each of the postseason series (there were only two in those days) that the Orioles won — the American League Championship Series and the World Series — the Orioles lost the respective first games to the Chicago White Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies (both at home, no less). Yet there was no panic in the fan base, because the fans correctly surmised that neither the White Sox nor the Phillies would be good enough to beat Orioles pitching more than once.

And they were right. Those were the only games the Orioles would lose that postseason, as Orioles fans understood how the postseason worked, since the Orioles were in it quite frequently in those days. Yet six months prior, it took roughly a week for those same Orioles fans to get over losing the first game of the 162-game regular season.

That is a very small part of the enormity and the fullness of any given Opening Day. It is the day that for many years, many of us have built entire calendar years around. But for the now, as we approach what would have been Opening Day 2020, we understand and merely proceed as our newfound normalcy instinctively tells us, “We’ll get around to it if we can.”

That’s just the way it is. Until better days

Mike Burke writes about sports for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s County Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984. He was the sports editor of the Times-News for nearly 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@alleganyradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT