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Planes, Trains, and Automatic Outs: An Overdue Visit to MLB Opening Day 2016

Skydiving is scary shit.

Back in May of 2013, when I decided to understand this theory by actually trying skydiving, the discovery portion of my science fair project happened…oh, right around the time when the plane started to creep over 13,000 feet.

We—this group of daring five or six people, all smiling in the nervous way a runner-up does when they realized they lost and aren’t sure which camera is glued to them — were going to take a plunge with instructor-types strapped to our backs. We looked like proud parents of oversized kids who couldn’t find a ‘sitter. It was special.

Of course, by the way of seating arrangements, I was going to be the first to jump. The Guinea Pig. Oink. Oink. Oink.

The door slid open, I scooted forward the best I could (between the man strapped to my back and the nervousness, my pace was more You Sane? and less Usain), and then I prepared to jump, to live a moment a lot of people talk about, but few have ever actually followed through and experienced.

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Over three years later, another plane, and a way less consequential event called Opening Day 2016, had a similar feel.

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By Friday night, with the weekend still to go, there was an excitement about possibly making the trek down to Anaheim for the Opening Night game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago Cubs. It had been years and years and…gang, elastic waistbands were all the rage the last time I was at an Opening Day game. Which is incredible, seeing that every year, I have no issue of proclaiming (along with a lot of other people) that Opening Day is one of the greatest things, ever! And there are few events, to me at least, that can match it.

But have I gone recently? Hell no.

I can tell you the about the sights and the sounds, the smells that have not yet saturated the entire stadium full of over-baked hot dogs, jalapenos and nacho cheese, or that familiar Spilled Beer Heating on the Pavement scent as you walk up the incline, but it’s all from memory—a very distant memory. In fact, in all honesty, when I write about the sights and the smells and genuine joy that comes from Opening Day, I’m usually stealing scenes from Game 123…maybe Game 6…a doubleheader in August…whatever game…it’s just not Opening Day.

So I decided to change that—take the leap, if you will.

I went back and forth, almost clicking “buy” several times. Yes. No. Yes? No?

Work?

Work on Monday?

There was the unsightly prospect that this stomach “thing” that was ailing me would still be there, and its powers could easily turn a ballpark frank into pea soup for three before Garrett Anderson even threw out the first pitch. But, hey, this is baseball. Not prom or a presentation on white linens. It was Jake Arrieta and the Cubs versus Mike Trout and the Angels. Opening Day 2016 was nearing and I could think of no more excuses, no reasoning as to why I shouldn’t do this thang’…

“Click.”

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If you’re going to do this, you stay until the end. – Me (the bottom of the ninth inning).

Sort through some of the historical heroics, and you’ll find the bottom of the ninth for the home team is never really a great situation to be entering. After all, you’re either losing or tied…and the idea of turning a home opener, or any game for that matter, into some sort of 18-inning marathon also doesn’t pump the fan base full of enthusiasm.

The Angels, unfortunately—if you happen to be a part of that cheering section—were long destroyed and deflated at this point of the game. There would be no Danny Glover. No Tony Danza or Christopher Lloyd. And there certainly wasn’t any little kid, waiving and flapping his hands in hopes of Angel luck.

Nope. The Cubs had proven their point: Last year was not a fluke. Jake Arrieta is not a fluke. And kick the Angels’ collective ass…they certainly did.

But, you stay until the end.

By the second out, there was nothing but blue jerseys and Chicago-ease filling the stadium. Not being an Angels fan, I stuck out like the spiteful kid who decided to wear jeans and an Anthrax shirt to swimming party: sweater, some sort of pants, and a Marshall University ball cap. The other option, mind you, was to be the random jackass who wears hats of other MLB teams that have nothing to do with the current game. So, yeah, sorry Buccos—incognito was the call.

The third out came and went and the gasp of “Oh well, that sucked” by the remaining Angels fans was quickly overtaken by a final Cubs fans’ salute—sort of a heckling, cackling burp that led up to a resounding…CUBBBBIIIIEEEESSSS!  I stood up and took in one last panoramic twist and turn of the scene in front me, and then made my way out of the hamster maze as quickly as I could. (The end seats always help alleviate some of the bumping and cramming you will have to endure when exiting a stadium. Remember that.)

The game was over, but the moment was not.

The parking lot looked political: red and blues, arguing and flicking-off each other in non-threatening ways, understanding that the Fuzz was probably right around the next car, waiting to make their monthly quota. We made our way through the masses as independents—circling past where the Clydesdales pitched their favorite brewski before the game—making our own pedestrian pathways, as you do when exiting stadiums.

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Then, we got on the wrong train—luckily, we were coherent (enough) to understand the PA’s voice who was explaining the train we were on was going to San Diego (Whale’s Vagina).

Crisis averted.

Our train arrived 17 hours later, I think—it felt like 17 hours. And it was a grand machine of sports. In contrast, this train was coming back from San Diego (Whale’s Vagina), where it just so happened the Los Angeles Dodgers had finished shutting out the Padres only a few hours prior. The doors swung open to a substantial amount of exiting Dodgers fans—why they were exiting in Anaheim? I don’t know—who looked at the oncoming Angels (same question for them going to LA) and Cubs fans (never mind) the way you would expect them to: stern eyes, locking for only a nanosecond stare…sort of like that moment before a briefcase is switched in a Crime drama. We made our way to the top level of the train—right near the water fountain-thing that looked like the swish-n-spit at a dentist’s office—and found a few seats right as the train began to move.

I sat, smashed in a corner seat, looking out into the dark abyss—basically the entire aerial shot list of Season Two of True Detective—rethinking and remembering the last three or so hours of what we all just got to do. I was excited. It was incredible.

Like…

Before the ninth inning came and went, there was Dexter Fowler, a practically unwanted man during the winter, going 3 for 4 from the leadoff spot, setting the table for the Cubs (who in the hell saw that coming?).

There was Jake Arrieta, getting into quasi-possible “situations” only to calmly, and dominantly, get his way out of them. There was Mike Trout, arguably the face of the MLB, striking out mightily, reminding us all that good pitching is still a dominant force few can defeat.

There was Albert Pujols, a man I saw hit a home run 15 years earlier at PNC Park, right after my 21st birthday, looking older…as you would expect, but don’t want to believe.

There was Miguel Montero, blasting a home run over the right field fence, reminding us that it’s never who you think will go yard that day.

There was a bobble by Angels’ first baseman CJ Cron that reminded me how the smallest elements in baseball can change the dynamic of a game—and how sometimes they don’t get noticed.

There was Rod Carew up on the big screen, in attendance at the same Opening Day…I wondered if he ever read the Rick Dempsey book I had written that had stories about him in it…And that also made me think about my Grandpa and our first season we wouldn’t be sharing together.

Before the floodgates opened, there was the anticipated spectacle of the first pitch—a wonderful crack of the glove only seconds after Garret Richards released the ball, which also happened to be a ball. Garrett Anderson seemed to have better luck with his ceremonial effort.

There was me, sweating from walking up the incline as fast as my feet—and pea soup vending machine of a stomach—would take me. I found my section, my row, my green fold-out, plopped down, and I didn’t move until the end (see above). I took in the sights and the sounds, those ones I had written about but really had forgotten with time. The scene was perfect; it played in my mind like a MasterCard Commercial.

Two tickets to Opening Day: $250.00.

Parking at Union Station: $16.00.

Two train tickets to Anaheim: $14.00.

A Beer, a hot dog (and a sprite for the ailing guy): $21.00-ish.

Nachos and that second beer: I don’t know; she paid.

Getting to be apart of Opening Day 2016: Calculate the above stuff and there you have it.

There are some things money can’t buy—like championships or solid team chemistry—for everything else, there’s my job I skipped to watch Opening Day 2016 that helps me afford expenses and such.

And yes, finally, there’s the priceless part.

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Over three years after that jump up in Santa Barbara, I’m alive and I went to Opening Day 2016. That’s one crazy-ass sentence. No shit. But it was a magical. And, oddly enough, it was the sight of a plane, with the sound of the Star Spangled Banner echoing throughout the stadium, that got my heart thumping in a familiar way that I had, sort of, experienced only a few years before.  It was the absolute reason I sprinted up that incline the way I did, and why I got to  my seat as quickly as I did. It was my reasoning for buying the tickets with this seat location. It’s why Opening Day is so special.

It was the discovery portion of this science fair project.

This:

Play ball!

 

 

 

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