“Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.” — Yogi Berra
“It took me 17 years to get three thousand hits in baseball. I did it in one afternoon on the golf course.” — Hank Aaron
Some call it the Spring Ritual. I just call it Opening Day. The weather may say 30 degrees, but the calendar says otherwise.
Today is Opening Day for the Milwaukee Brewers, my team. Janis and I will be at the game. We will watch the splendor, power, and versatility of Ryan Braun, who last year did not permit the false accusations of MLB to taint his year. We will admire the coolness of Yovani Gallardo on the mound, all the time hoping his pitch count stays reasonable. We will hope Jean Segura turns into a genius at shortstop and continues to improve at the plate. We will hope Rickie Weeks does from the beginning what he did the last half of last year. We will cheer for Carlos Gomez, a real favorite, a real hustler, a real nice guy. We will enjoy the at bats, the slashes, and the plate discipline of Nori Aoki, who invariably carries a warm smile on his face. We will cheer for Aramis Ramirez to get off to a fast start and maintain the slugging pace he eventually developed last year. We will watch to see if Alex Gonzalez can play first and contribute with his bat to a reasonable extent until Corey Hart returns. We will have faith that Kyle Lohse becomes the pitcher he was the last two years, with Cy Young quality stats. We will hope the back end of the starting rotation is stronger than the Spring Training results reflect. We will cheer for the new members of the bullpen and hope John Axford has settled down as the closer.
Oh, it is Spring, the entree to Summer, the baseball season. Every year this time means something to me. I cherish baseball, the numbers, the statistics, the runner moving from first to third on a single, the long throw from right field to try catch a base runner at home, the pure grace of a double play, the sinker ball of a reliever trying to induce the hitter to tap into a double play to get out of the inning, the power of the closer trying to blow a fast ball by the hitter with two men on and two outs. I love the smell of brats, the sip of a beer, the kids admiring the game with their cotton candy in thier mouths and their Brewer apparel on.
On these Opening Days, I think of Robin Yount and all the joy he brought to fans like me during his career with the Brewers. He personified the game; he was baseball in Milwaukee.
In every home opener and many other days of the year, I think of Hank Aaron. Hank was my fist idol. Every morning as a kid in the Summer my first self-appointed task would be to go to the sports section see how the box score said Henry did the day before – assuming I had not listened to the game. I held in wonder Henry’s short yet powerful swing, his intensity, his selflessness, the grace and ease with which he patrolled the outfield. Imbedded deeply in my mind are the home runs he hit to tie and then break the all-time home-run record, which had been held by The Babe. Some fraud now lays claim to this record, but it is still, in my mind, The Hammer’s record. Now having read books about it, I marvel at how he maintained his composure in a time of racial animosity and downright hate. He was my first idol, and I am proud of it. When I watch baseball, I think of The Hammer.