Opening Day Day: Does the return of baseball deserve its own holiday?

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Major League Baseball joined the company in placing ads supporting the move. Although the league has expressed support for the effort, it is not a participant.

February 25, 2014

The following question came before the American body politic Tuesday: Should Congress designate baseball’s opening day as a federal holiday?

To which fans responded: You mean it’s not?

The first day of the baseball season is already a day of mass miracles, when hundreds of thousands of invalids who call in sick at 8:30 a.m. are healed in time to be at the ballpark by the first pitch at 1:05 p.m. Maybe it should be a religious holiday.

But the forces behind the proposal have picked the civic route, hoping lawmakers will declare opening day the 12th official federal holiday, meaning civil servants don’t have to work, letter carriers don’t bring the mail and the rest of country can buy mattresses for up to 60 percent off.

Like many great ideas, the movement to create Opening Day Day seems to have been hatched over a beer. Or rather, a beer company. Budweiser — which is now owned by a corporation in Belgium, where they play soccer, not baseball — launched a petition drive and advertising campaign using Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith as a pitchman.

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The company debuted ads on ESPN.com and MLB.com. It is seeking 100,000 citizens 21 and older to sign a petition on WhiteHouse.gov within 30 days. By Tuesday, more than 14,000 had registered their approval. The petition says, in part: “Opening Day is more than just the beginning of the season. It’s a symbol of rebirth. . . . It’s an American tradition, and it deserves to be recognized as an American holiday.”

If the effort grows any real grass roots, Congress, in theory, could take it up and wield its awesome power to mess with the calendar.

It’s relatively easy to get a commemorative day declared by a simple resolution, and the year is already packed with nods to pet causes and special interests. In recent years, we’ve marked World Plumbing Day, National Corvette Day and National Ten Commandments Weekend.

But baseball is aiming to actually close the federal government for a day, which can be achieved only by a vote in both houses of Congress and the president’s signature (or, alternatively, three inches of snow). That takes a lot more effort and will cost taxpayers a lot more money.

The federal Office of Personnel Management said it was difficult to calculate the cost of shutting down the civil service for a workday with pay. “New technologies allow federal employees to work from home and some will find ways to make up their work at no cost to the federal government,” said OPM spokeswoman Jennifer Dorsey. But closing the government just in the Washington region during the 2010 blizzard cost an estimated $71 million a day.

Many have proposed new holidays before. Voting advocates have pushed for years to have Election Day declared a national holiday. In 2008, Barack Obama, then a senator campaigning for the presidency, joined the effort to have March 31 dubbed Cesar Chavez Day. Federal workers still report for duty on the third Monday of March (Susan B. Anthony Day), the third Monday in May (Malcolm X Day) and the third Monday in September (Native American Day), all proposed holidays that have failed to make it through Congress.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) introduced the first bill to create a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday just days after the civil rights leader was assassinated in 1968. He reintroduced it in every Congress until it became law in 1983.

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Nor can a holiday rest easy once it’s made it onto the list. No one born after 1975 has ever gotten Victory Day off, as it was stricken from the federal calendar that year (except students and workers in Rhode Island, reportedly the only state still to officially mark Victory Day, or V-J Day, to celebrate the end of World War II.) George Washington’s birthday was combined (unofficially) with Abraham Lincoln’s birthday to make “Presidents’ Day.”

And Columbus Day is on increasingly shaky ground. California has already dropped it from its state calendar. If Congress decides it needs to lop off an old holiday to make room for Opening Day Day, the second Monday in October might go back to being just the second Monday in October.

In any case, baseball will have to make a strong case that its National Pastime status is worthy of such a distinction. Why not football, which is vastly more popular?

Even among baseball fans, the idea was greeted with skepticism. Some on social media Tuesday said they would rather have the Monday after the Super Bowl off. National Hangover Day? And many noted that in some cities, the start of baseball season is already a de facto holiday.

“It is seriously one of the happiest days of the year” in St. Louis, said Amanda St. Amand, an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “People blow off work and kids miss school, and nobody blinks an eye at it.”

Some fans said there should be nothing official about not working on opening day.

“Opening day is about playing hooky from work or from school,” said Laura Lippman, a bestselling Baltimore mystery novelist and an avid Orioles fan. “If you make it a federal holiday, you’re removing one of its signature joys.”

But Kyra DeBlaker-Gebhard, a Nationals season ticket holder who hasn’t missed an opening day since the team’s second season, said she would appreciate the congressional permission for her daughter to miss school. Last year, she called in the morning to say her child would be absent. When the secretary asked why, ­DeBlaker-Gebhard answered: “She has baseball fever.”

The woman chuckled. “Okay, I’ll mark that as excused.”

Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.

Steve Hendrix came to The Post more than ten years ago from the world of magazine freelancing and has written for just about every page of the paper: Travel, Style, the Magazine, Book World, Foreign, National and, most recently, the Metro section’s Enterprise Team.
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