Opening Day and the possibility of the Penwigeon
Published: April 10, 2013
Breaking news from the Spitballin’ Science Desk (which is just my regular desk): There’s been a new source of global warming discovered—Chris “Crush” Davis’ bat. Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Hack Wilson set the major league record for most RBI in a season with a staggering 191, and that record has stood nearly unchallenged since 1930.
As of press time, Davis is on pace to hit 459, a number that would all but guarantee the Orioles a World Series victory, probably cure leprosy, and raise the Earth’s temperature a smoldering 23 degrees, melting the ice caps and, amongst a host of other less adorable/erotic results, force penguins to mate with pigeons. Crush kicked off the season with home runs in four straight games, a record for season-starting excellence he now shares with baseball legends Willie Mays and Mark McGwire. He also shares the record with a fourth player, former Texas Rangers teammate Nelson Cruz. Cruz matched the record to start the 2011 season but failed to hit the 162 mark, eventually cooling down, ending the season with 29 dingers, a damn good total in this post-steroidal era to be sure, but hardly face-melting. Davis himself had an even more impressive power streak at the end of last season crushing seven homers during a six-game homer streak that helped propel the fairy-tale 2012 O’s into the postseason. That streak, like this one, is burned beautifully into my memory and I will probably carry it with me long after I’ve forgotten my Social Security number and how to control my bladder, but when Davis’ torrid six-game streak ended last season, there was no room for fantastical conjecture of shattered records. The streak began on the 156th game of the season and ended on the 161st.
And there lies the majesty of baseball and the soft, fuzzy beauty of a new season’s beginning. Baseball, more than any other sport, is like life. It’s a slog, an epochal grind of 162 games—over 1,400 innings, thousands and thousands of at bats—with each pitch a contest, an opportunity, a chance to succeed, to connect, to crush a hanging slider over the fence, or to swing for the fences with a mighty whiff, a bowed head, and a defeated return to the dugout. Like life, there is continuous change; the pendulum of fortune vacillates from swing to swing, from pitch to pitch, from leaping, over-the-fence grab to botched, under-the-glove blunder. Wins come, losses mount, new players come, old men go. Old friends, like Brian Roberts, whose body has been unfairly ravaged by the game, could fade away or see it end at any moment, an awkward slide bringing a sudden end. Others, like Pedro Strop or Jake Arrieta, struggle to take their prodigious, God-given talent and make sense of it, to make it work, knowing all the while if they can’t, they too will be gone, not making it to 162.
If on Sunday, May 26, the Orioles lose to the Toronto Blue Jays, we fans may feel a twinge of sadness, but it will quickly pass, and if we win that game, the fleeting joy will fade just the same. Forty-nine games will have come before, 112 will lie in the future. In a baseball season, a single success or failure rarely carries weight on its own. Like life, it’s a grind you push through and hope to enjoy what you can along the way. We here in Baltimore, however, had grown accustomed to the staggering weight of failure. We’d been burdened with the sense that no game, that none of it matters. Then, last year, we again saw the light that winning brings at the end of the tunnel. In playoff baseball, every moment is charged, just to step into Camden Yards with the Orioles battling for the World Series is to know it, to feel it. The hearts of 45,000 tied to every moment, rising and falling to every pitch, ecstatic in any moment’s victory and reeling with each split-second’s loss. But all that is what lies ahead. Now, we are only at the beginning.
There’s a reason spring comes when it does: The heavens were set to mirror the baseball season. There is nothing else in sport like Opening Day, and no place on Earth better to spend it than Camden Yards when the sun is shining and every seat is full. The deep green of ivy climbing the bullpen wall reaching the brick-red of the warehouse, all under the bright blue of a springtime Baltimore sky, enveloping the dappled sea of 45,000 dots of orange-and-white jerseys, and even the stark white signs for Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, with a corona of perfect harmony. It’s a scene worthy of Muir or Monet, a beauty not present under October’s lights. On Opening Day there is only hope and little consequence; it is a celebration of all the baseball that’s come before and all the new Orioles magic set to come.
It’s hard to dream during the 50th game, there’s too much baggage piled with evidence, and there’s no time for fantasy in Game Seven at Yankee Stadium when each pitch has the World Series on the line. But on Opening Day, when Crush hits a grand slam, there’s nothing to do but dream. Dream of $8 Bohs and eighth-inning rallies, dream of warm afternoons at the Yard with your dad or your own little boy and making plans to stand together in line for playoff tickets. As Davis’ titanic swing sent Tyler Robertson’s pitch soaring high over the left-field wall, there was nothing but to dream he’ll hit those hundred-plus homers and double the RBIs of the mighty Hack Wilson. Maybe Crush’s bat will set the globe ablaze. From its ashes will spring the majestic pengwigeon.
Catch Jim at the CityLit Festival’s New Mercury Readings Saturday, April 13 at 4 P.M. and on twitter @jimmy2bad. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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