Monday was the home opener at Fenway Park, the little basilica in Boston where the Red Sox play 81 baseball games each year. And Opening Day is always a spectacle that finds the ball yard filled with celebrities, politicians and a lot of connected one-time-only fans who have difficulty discerning the difference between a double-play and a stage play.
On Opening Day I always get to the yard early, quite early. So Monday I was there at 9:30 for a 2:05 game. I like to sit in the relative silence, stare at the green grass, enjoy the sight of the sun washing the left field wall, the Green Monster, watch the players as they slowly emerge from the dugout to sit on the grass, stretch, run, play catch.
I watch coaches hit fungoes to outfielders and grounders to short and second, the ball skimming across the lawn on to the groomed saddle-colored skin of the infield. I watch as the writers talk to players, coaches, managers of both clubs and to each other about the season about to begin, about prospects, sharing information, some insight and a ton of gossip with one another.
Monday, the Red Sox played the Pittsburgh Pirates, who play in one of the best of all the new ball yards to emerge since Larry Lucchino built Camden Yards in Baltimore and changed Major League Baseball by providing fans with the opportunity to sit in a park built for our greatest game instead of stadiums constructed for football.
That’s one of many differences between baseball and football. One is meant to be played in a park. The other in a stadium. One has a manager charged with balancing the needs of a team, the different egos, demands, and talent of 25 athletes.
The other, a coach, teaches his players what to do: how to block in certain situations, what hole in the line to hit, where to turn to catch a pass. In football, some coaching staffs are nearly as a large as the roster of an MLB team.
In baseball, if a player makes a mistake it’s called an error and even the most unknowledgeable can see what happened because ball players are separated by the space of the field, alone with their error. In football, it’s impossible to pick out who missed a tackle or ran the wrong passing route.
Now it was about noon and the gates opened and the fans began spilling into the park. The players were taking batting practice and the high sun sat in the cloudless sky allowing people to forget the slice of a snowstorm that swept across Greater Boston only 24 hours earlier.
The pre-game ceremony was highlighted by the appearance of Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and two other New England Patriots players strolling out from beneath an enormous American flag that dropped across the left field wall with each man carrying one of five Super Bowl trophies the football team has won. The crowd went crazy, screaming Brady’s name and wildly applauding each step he took on the grass.
The noise was so loud that the guy seated next to me had to shout when he said, “This might be the only place in America and the one day in the year where people don’t ask about or talk about Trump.”
And there it was, a defining moment.
For months now, everywhere I’ve been—different cities, a couple different countries, around a wide variety of people with different beliefs and different views of life and politics—the conversation has inevitably, exhaustingly, turned to Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States. Who is he, really? What will he do? What will he get done? How long will he last? Are you scared?
But yesterday at the oldest ball yard in the major league the conversation was a constant change of pace; from past to present to the future. From Ted Williams and Yaz to Ortiz, Mookie, Benintendi and the eternal dream that, yes, this is the year when the Olde Towne Team will almost certainly play well into October. Again.
And through it all hardly any “Trump Talk” could be heard. For a single day on the official start of the longest of seasons, the arrival of this uniquely American game had pushed tweets and Trump into the shadows; proof, my friends, that we have never needed baseball more and finally it’s back.