February 18, 2019

DC Opening Day Always a Historic Moment

April 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Opening Day in Washington today was notable for the absence of two persons, the first being President Obama.  Starting with President Taft more than a hundred years ago in 1910, they have been there. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon–so many have been there throwing out the first pitch in Washington, DC and the renewal of that tradition has brought new meaning back to the game. With or without Presidents, the pageantry of Opening Day has gone forward through the most troubled of times.  Even in wartime baseball has been maintained as a point of order for the morale of the country and the decision to continue the games has always been made by no less than the President.

One of the proudest of all those early Presidential Open Day fans was Calvin Coolidge who loved tossing out the first pitch. Nothing pleased him more than having Walter Johnson–the Big Train–on the other end of those tosses. Coolidge was perhaps the first president to really adopt the Washington ball club as his own and he invited the pennant winning Nationals to the White House in 1924–perhaps the first time a major sports team had enjoyed that treat. It is a tradition that has of course only grown.

Last year’s Presidential Opening Day was dismal in contrast, not because the fan fare and spectacle have diminished, but because the game was such a disappointing affair as President Obama was presented with one of the worst games of the year. The Philadelphia Philles behind Roy Halliday cuffed the Nationals around like puppies. But the worst part of it was the behavior of the Philadelphia fans who made the trip down from the City of Brotherly Love and gave everyone the distinct impression the President was in attendance two hours to the north of the Nation’s Capital.

This year is the first that Obama has not attended an Opening Day ceremony somewhere in the country and it is disappointing, but there was enough patriotic fervor today in DC for any fan to appreciate.  The official US Navy Band played a soft and moving rendition of “America the Beautiful” and the “Star Spangled Banner.” The band has often played these dates since the earliest of them in DC.

Library of Congress Photo shows President Coolidge, Walter Johnson, and  Clark Griffith on Opening Day in Washington

There was another historic absence from today’s game beside the President. It was the first Opening Day in many a year that the Atlanta dugout was not manned by Bobby Cox. When the teams lined up along the foul lines and the manager of the Atlanta Braves was announced, the name was Fredi Gonzalez rather than Bobby Cox. Gonzalez is a fine replacement and he is very well liked by players and fans alike. He has the advantage of having a very good ball club behind him as well and if there is anything to create fondness for a manager, it is a winning tradition.

Maybe when the home team comes out on the short end of the score as we did today–losing to the Braves 2-0–it is time to wax historic.  Had the Nationals new lineup run up the score against Atlanta pitchers, the tone of this article would no doubt be quite different.

But given the perspective of Washington, where the game is played with the national monuments visible in the distance, it is easy to let a single loss pale in comparison to the historic moment. We in the National League are approaching a milestone.  If my math is correct, there have been almost 140 of these Opening Days without pause. The first games may not have been all conducted with the pomp and ceremony of the one today. Yet it was not long before the games were begun each season with bands playing patriotic marches and red, white and blue bunting abounding. The patrons today do not dress in suits and ties as they did in the days of Coolidge and Walter Johnson, but the atmosphere is equally electric.

While there may be many who will argue whether baseball remains the national pastime, the unbroken record of each Opening Day is a feat of some significance, one that no other sport can approach in this country and perhaps anywhere in the world. I mean no disrespect to football–the European version–or cricket for that matter.  But another baseball season has begun and it casts a shadow that eclipses the trial of Barry Bonds, the 2-0 loss of the Nationals, and any assortment of ills.

Only one thing might prove better and that would be the true arrival of spring. There is a forecast of snow this evening, but for now we will rise to brush the snow from the sidewalk knowing that it is day two of the season, one that is growing older already.

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