We are the cold/We are the freezing/We are the ones who came to Opening Day, so let's start shivering/There's a choice we're making/We're giving up our health/It's true, we'll catch some awful colds/Just you and me.
Baseball, the sport of choice among pensioners, Huey Lewis and The News and Brahmin journalists, opened Monday in five parks throughout the major leagues including Memorial Stadium, but excluding Chicago's Wrigley Field, the Wailing Wall of the op-ed pages.
Ah, Opening Day.
Are we in a full moon cycle? I mean it was rampant weirdness out here. The game was strange -- the Orioles got two more runs (four) than they got hits (two) -- and the weather bizarre.
Charlie Hough, the Texas Rangers' knuckleballer, didn't allow a hit for six innings, yet was losing, 2-1, thanks to four straight walks and two passed balls in the sixth. Although Hough's no-hitter still was around into the seventh, Hough wasn't. Doug Rader, the Texas manager, pulled him in favor of Dave Rozema. And even though Hough later got off the hook and didn't lose the game, you have to wonder if he felt cheated, being yanked with a no-hitter intact.
"Not at all," said Hough, who is 37 years old and never has pitched a no-hitter. "I was struggling like crazy with the wind. I didn't feel like I ever had control of the knuckleball. I didn't walk in and say, 'Take me out of here.' But I won't argue with him. Nobody can manage for one player. You can't do that. He had to do what he did."
Said Rader: "I had no choice. He'd given up eight walks. Eight walks is the same as eight singles; there wouldn't have been any decision there. The wind was giving him Charlie all kinds of trouble. I think he'd done all he could do."
Perhaps you heard that it snowed in Fenway Park. Crazy, isn't it, to open the season on April 8 in Boston? Those New Englanders must be putting a little extra sauterne in the chowder, huh?
Snowed here, too.
Right here, south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Like Jack Paar used to say: I kid you not. At 1:07 on Monday afternoon, Eastern Standard Time, about an hour before game time, snow showers started falling on our heads. I knew it was snow because rain usually melts before it hits you.
The snow lasted for about half an hour, even as a benumbed U.S. Army band played on in center field causing people to wonder what was indeed opening, the baseball season or the Winter Olympics? Then, the snow briefly turned to rain, and finally, at 1:30, to bright sun, eliciting a tremendous cheer from the crowd, many of whom I recognized from the Admiral Byrd expedition.
The temperature at game time was announced as 40 degrees. (I thought of calling up Bowie Kuhn. Now that he's out of baseball, maybe he'd lend me his long johns.) Toby Harrah stepped up for the Texas Rangers and hit the first pitch for a single. Gary Ward was on his way to walking when aptly named Storm Davis looked in for the sign and found his vision obscured by an uncontrolled substance immediately recognized as more snow. Lots of it. Enough that two minutes later, with Pete O'Brien coming to the plate, home plate umpire Larry Barnett decided it would be prudent to delay the game a while -- long enough to hand out shovels to the able-bodied men and put snow tires on the bullpen car. Predictably, the crowd booed the decision to cover the field, and just as predictably, by the time the ground crew got the small, round tarp over the pitcher's mound, the squall was over and the sun back out. Jim Palmer had thrown out the first ball, but considering the stormy weather, maybe the Orioles should have tried for Lena Horne.
Perhaps I'm making too much of the weather. But then why was the man seated to my right -- a learned veteran of such opening days -- carrying a plaid, woolen blanket for his legs and wearing the following: one shirt; one thick, Maine sweater; one scarf; one hat; one pair of gloves and a down-filled, mountain-climbing, winter jacket guaranteed to keep him insulated down to 40 below? And as he said to me in the top of the third, after my hands had long since turned blue, "Well, I'll tell you what, at least the beer's cold."
My favorite comment on the weather came from Rader. Before the game, with the wind gusting to 40 mph and a flock of robins heading gung-ho toward I-95 south, Rader was asked if there was any special clothing he'd recommend his players wear today. "Yeah," he said. "I think they ought to wear a hat and pants." Pause. "Anything after that is optional."
Did I mention that it snowed here?
Did I mention that Charlie Hough left the game losing, 2-1, while still pitching a no-hitter?
What is it about Opening Day?
What makes it so important that newspapers devoted so much space, cover to cover, to baseball stories this morning? If I were a tree, the two days I'd fear most are Opening and Election. What do they tell them at Weyerhauser? You're one of the lucky ones -- you're becoming a box score?
What makes it so important that 50,402 people would come out in weather like this, one of the few days you could get both a tan and frostbite. Recent history indicates you could still get a seat later in the season -- even on a warm day. Last year the Orioles drew 51,327 on Opening Day and 8,644 for their second game. But the tease of Opening Day is so effective that the Orioles are actually calling Wednesday's game against Texas, "The Second Opener," and they're expecting a near sellout. Hey, if it works, go with it. Maybe they can push their Aug. 29 game against Seattle as "The 59th Opener."
But enough of this cynicism. Even if it felt like winter, baseball really does usher in spring. Look on the bright side. The Orioles are already in first place, and there are 161 games left to fully explore who's on first, what's on second, and whether I don't know is still on third.