Spring in Maryland – Baseball

Posted on March 29, 2008

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Opening Day of baseball season, no matter what the temperature, is a sure sign that spring has arrived in Maryland.

On Opening Day, all things are possible. This is the next year we were waiting for last year. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. No wins and no losses.

  • The rebuilding Baltimore Orioles open Monday, March 31, against the Tampa Bay Rays. Following tradition, Opening Day is an afternoon game. The first pitch is scheduled for 3:05 at Camden Yards, the best ballpark in America. Jeremy Guthrie is scheduled to be the Opening Day starter for the Orioles.
  • The Washington Nationals open today, Sunday, March 30, against the Atlanta Braves, in the newest ballpark in America, Nationals Park (name to be sold later to the highest corporate bidder). President Bush is scheduled to throw out the first pitch. The game will start at 8:05 p.m., not a traditional hour for a Sunday game, particularly in chilly March. You can see it on ESPN. Odalis Perez will be the Opening Night pitcher for the Nationals, and Tim Hudson will start for Atlanta.
  • Yesterday, Saturday, March 29, the Orioles and the Nationals tried out the brand-new stadium in Southeast D.C. with the final game of the spring exhibition season. The Nats won, 3-0.

The rallying cry of Brooklyn Dodgers fans was, “Wait till next year!” The motto of these Baltimore Orioles might be “Wait three or four years.” Could the Baltimore Orioles win the American League pennant this year? On Opening Day, the answer is, technically, “Yes.” Not that anybody is expecting that to happen. I wish the Orioles were opening against a real baseball team, like the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox. Who are these guys, the Tampa Bay Rays? They’re a newbie expansion team with a proud history dating to 1998. They used to call themselves the Devil Rays, now they’re just the Rays. What kind of a name is that for a baseball team?

Baseball teams are supposed to be named after socks, like the Red Sox and White Sox, or birds, like the Orioles and Cardinals. Baseball teams are not supposed to be named after fish. That’s a baseball rule, far as I’m concerned. Baseball has lots of arcane rules, which is one of the reasons the game is so lovable.

Some of the rules are universal and unquestioned: “Three strikes and you’re out.” There are “ground rules” set by agreement: “Over the fence on one hop is a ground-rules double.” There are obscure rules, known to fans but understood only by umpires. The “infield fly rule” comes to mind. (See, when writing about baseball, you have license to ramble at random. That’s another rule, and I plan to take full advantage of it.)

One of the rules imposed on boys of my generation was: “Keep your eye on the ball!” The rule was universal, applying not only to baseball, but to school, to work, to life. Roughly translated, it meant “Pay attention to what you’re doing.” This rule was internalized at a young age, and it helps explain why men of my generation are not very good at multitasking.

Human beings were never intended to multitask. Multitasking is for computers. The dictionary definition of “multitasking” is “The simultaneous execution of more than one program or task by a single computer processor.” My source is the New Oxford American Dictionary. I rest my case.

Besides rules, baseball fans like statistics, and history. I have been slow to warm to the Washington Nationals, because their history in D.C. is short. The Orioles are Maryland’s team, by history and seniority. But the new Nationals are of obvious interest, especially to fans in the Washington suburbs and in Southern Maryland.

The Nationals used to be the Montreal Expos before they moved to Washington in 2006. The team played the first two seasons at RFK Stadium. Today, baseball moves to the new stadium, seating 41,222. It’s on the Anacostia River, adjacent to the Navy Yard, in Southeast D.C.

The Nationals take a little getting used to. I grew up with the Washington Senators. Washington is supposed to be an American League town, but the new team plays in the National League. The D.C. baseball team is supposed to be named the Senators.

I saw President Eisenhower throw out the first pitch at a Senators Opening Day at old Griffith Stadium, in the 1950s, and I saw Ted Williams hit a home run into the big tree over the centerfield fence. That was before owner Calvin Griffith moved the team to Minnesota in 1960 and renamed it the Twins. I saw the expansion Senators play at RFK Stadium, which was brand-new in 1962.

The last year the Senators played in D.C. was 1971, the year I graduated from the University of Maryland. the expansion Senators moved to Texas in 1972 and became the Rangers.

Baseball was absent from Washington from 1972 to 2005. Its return to Washington in 2006 was welcome and overdue. Playing the first two seasons at RFK Stadium gave the new Nationals a sense of connection with the old Senators. But RFK Stadium, which once seemed so modern, is now the old stadium.

It has not yet been determined whether the Washington Nationals will live up to the slogan popularized by Washington Senators fans in the 1950s and 1960s: “Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”

Everything old is new again, especially on Opening Day in the spring. — Bernie Hayden

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