With 25 MLB teams set to start their 2014 campaigns on Monday, it seems as good a time as any to celebrate opening day — the best day of the year for many baseball fans. Here are the 10 best things about opening day:
10. Fresh looks
We get a bit of a preview during spring training, but opening day every year comes with a smattering of new uniforms around the league. No team enters the 2014 season with a full-blown redesign, but seven squads will unveil new primary or alternate jerseys. And that’s not to mention all the new hairstyles and facial-hair patterns on individual players.
9. Ballpark favorites again available
Typically, food available inside ballparks is good or bad only by the standards of food available inside ballparks. But recent trends toward more local fare at games means better choices for snacking while watching baseball. Fans of AT&T Park’s lauded garlic fries, Citi Field’s steak sandwich or Coors Field’s s’more nachos can again feed their cravings. And for everyone else, opening day provides an opportunity to eat hot dogs without being judged.
8. Spring training is over
What’s more agonizing than the last couple weeks of spring training? It’s a total tease: Professional baseball played at sub-professional levels, with games featuring the league’s top stars being replaced in the fifth inning by some anonymous 20-year-old wearing No. 93. At some point, you stop caring who’s in great shape and who needs to refine his curveball and just start sitting around hoping your team’s best players don’t get hurt before the season even starts. Those left standing have made it. So have you. Hooray for the regular season!
POLL: How will the Mariners do this season?
Sacrifice bunting may be divisive among baseball fans, but ceremonial bunting certainly is not. Baseball clubs roll out their most festive textiles only a handful of times every season, so the bunting decorating every stadium on opening day helps you know it’s a celebration.
6. The pageantry
Beyond the bunting, there’s also the first pitch, the best local celebrity available singing the national anthem, and, best of all, the introduction of every player, coach and trainer. How often do you get an opportunity to cheer a bullpen catcher you’re sure is doing a particularly good job? This is it, so let him hear it.
5. Ridiculous “pace” stats
For one day in 1994, Cubs outfielder Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes was on pace to hit 486 home runs in a season after a three-homer opening day outburst. Stuff like that captures everyone’s imagination, however briefly. Rhodes hit only five more home runs in his Major League career (though he eventually hit a lot more in Japan). Maybe 2014 is the season somebody hits 486 home runs. Probably not.
4. Skipping school/work
This one depends on having cool parents or an understanding boss, but there’s hardly anything better than eschewing real-life responsibilities to spend a day in the sun watching baseball. It is this writer’s firm opinion that opening day should be made a national holiday, but until that happens, you should probably consider playing hooky.
3. All of the aces!
Once the season gets rolling, it’s not often you’ll be able to flip through channels and watch Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Johnny Cueto, Felix Hernandez and Jose Fernandez all on the same day. It’s awesome.
2. Every team is undefeated (almost)
Just before opening day, you inevitably hear all sorts of predictions about what will happen during the season from experts on the airwaves, in the papers, and all over the internet. Guess what? Forget ‘em all. Almost every year, some team comes out of nowhere to defy expectations and succeed. Maybe this year is your team’s year. Hope is the whole point. As of Monday, only the Dodgers and D-backs have losses on their ledger, and only because they started the season a week early in Australia.
1. They play baseball
Baseball is pretty much the best thing. And it starts, in earnest, on opening day. Enjoy.
(Note: An earlier version of this post was published to Game On on April 1, 2013.)