It was the late great Dallas-ite Ernie Banks who was credited with the phrase, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame, let’s play two.” There are no scheduled double headers anymore – the owners need all 81 home dates to make ends meet. But the Rangers will play two openers this year. Monday was an Opening Day as the Rangers started the season in Oakland. I had butterflies all day and could not wait for the 9:05 first pitch. But I am even more excited today. To me today is truly Opening Day.
The hope is that this isn’t one of those years where Opening Day is the most exciting day of the season. That’s been the case all too often in Arlington. In 2010 and 2011 we learned what it is like when the end of the season is more exciting than the beginning. This team would be hard pressed to duplicate that type of season, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism this year even if you aren’t counting on a return trip to the World Series (I am the eternal optimist and even I am not counting on that).
Three reasons to be optimistic: First there is youth. The Rangers opening day roster is officially the youngest in all of baseball. The average age of the guys on the 40-man roster is 27 and change. That means that the future is bright. But it could also mean that the present is tough to watch at times. Young players are inexperienced players and inexperienced players make mistakes. We call those growing pains, and they are as unavoidable as they are frustrating.
The mistakes are not mandatory, however. On Tuesday night one of the youngest players on the team was on the verge of imploding in his major league debut. Twenty-one year old Keone Kela made his debut in the seventh inning of a close game. The rookie promptly loaded the bases at which point Prince Fielder sauntered to the mound and told the kid to man up. Kela took it to heart, he did man up and got out of the inning when he induced an inning ending double play by throwing a 3-2 change up.
Prince is the second reason for optimism. During spring training we noticed that he was a different guy, and through the first series of the season it is even more obvious. He is more of a leader than he ever was last year and perhaps more importantly he is having fun. If you watch the games you will see him smiling a lot. I don’t recall seeing very many smiles on his face last year. That could be because he always had a grimace on his face as he played through neck and shoulder pain. This year he is laughing and leading.
Finally, you can be optimistic about the manager. Jeff Banister is everything he was advertised to be. The results may not show it yet, but like any coach or manager he must be given time to implement his system. One of the reasons the players are having so much fun already this season is that they believe in the system. He is the kind of man you would follow into battle. And since it looks like this season is going to be a battle, that is a very good thing.
So enjoy Opening Day. Will it be the most exciting day of the season? I don’t know, but when is bat day?