April 5, 2012

Why Opening Day in Cincinnati is the Best Day of the Year

If you live in Cincinnati, Opening Day is special. It's the one day of every year that dads, moms, kids, firefighters, politicians, grocery story clerks, insurance salesmen and every other fine person in the Queen City come together and simultaneously play hooky. Everyone is excited. Everyone is doused in red. Cincinnati Red.

As a lifelong fan and a father who believes that it's never too early to brainwash your children into loving baseball, I've been preparing my two young daughters for months. We practice all the cheers. We do the wave around the dinner table. We recite batting statistics over pretend tea parties. We go through our Spring Training routine. Ask my girls to name their favorite player and they'll both yell "JOEY VOTTO!" Ask them who their second favorite player is and they'll yell "DADDY!" To be fair, I did finish 4th in my softball team's MVP voting—though that had less to do with on-the-field performance and more to do with paying my league fees on time.

I've made such a big deal about it that the girls can't sleep. They lie awake at night chatting, chanting: Opening Day! Opening day! We can hear it through the monitor.

"Do you think we'll get pretzels?" one asks.

"Do you think we'll get ice cream?" the other asks.

"Do you think those kids will ever fall asleep?" my wife asks. I'd respond, but I'm too busy reading the latest Reds insider update from John Fay on my smart phone—in bed. I like to keep myself informed so I can be the first one to second-guess Dusty Baker's line-up. Of course, my closest friend beats me to the punch and drops me a text.

I have missed baseball so badly.

The big day finally arrives. Doesn't matter if outside it's cold or overcast or still dark out because excitement overtakes you and you wake up at 5 a.m. (a solid two hours before your alarm is set to blast "Centerfield" by John Fogerty); what matters is that inside it's warm and sunny and rounding-third-and-heading-for-home weather. It's like this in every Cincinnati home. Except maybe Mike Brown's.

The kids wake up and put on their baseball garb.
Jerseys? Check!
Red wristbands? Check!
Reds hats? Check!

"Not on your life," says your wife.

With an extra skip in their step, the kids come downstairs and devour a bowl of red-only Fruit Loops (that hour spent sorting out colors the night before was totally worth it). They drink cups of red milk, thanks to a little food coloring. They eat better and faster than usual. The glow from their smiles carries all the way to the car. And, just like that, our family is ready to go.

An entire winter has come and gone and we are Play-Doh'ed out. That's why the car ride to Great American Ballpark takes an eternity. We sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" over and over until the parking attendant takes our money. Within minutes, we're in the stadium listening to the "Star-Spangled Banner" and introduction of the ballplayers. My wife and I recall how the announcer used to roll his Rs when he'd say, "Jose Rijo." Finally the first pitch is thrown and my kids high-five everyone me, my wife, and everyone else whom they can reach with their tiny little arms. It's finally arrived.

Why do we get so excited about Opening Day in Cincinnati? It reminds us of tradition. It reminds us of when we were kids. It gives us a wealth of memories that we can share with each other and others around the city (say Jose Rijo's name and half the people in the room will roll the R in his name). But, most important, we love Opening Day because it gives us hope. Hope that this year will be better than the last—not just in sports, but in life. Hope that we'll get a chance to see something magical—on the field, off the field, on the Jumbotron. And hope that for just one day we can put everything else behind us and just enjoy life. We need it.

Welcome back, baseball. My family and I (and the entire city) have missed you.

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