I am not a brain surgeon, but I’m pretty sure I have brain damage. In fact, I’m almost positive that a PET scan would reveal some splintered wood, cowhide, and red stitches floating around my hippocampus. I’m positive those foreign objects are preventing me from remembering it’s trash night.
That’s what happens when you start covering baseball before the age of 25 and keep on doing it as you approach the age of 60. Distant memories become tied to the games and, for some reason, many of the most vivid ones are from opening day.
It’s just one game out of 162 and its importance in the overall scheme of trying to reach the postseason is more minimal than in any other sport. And still, baseball’s opening day is among the most treasured of sporting events, which is why it stings so much that the earliest scheduled starting date in baseball history has arrived and all the games have been wiped out by a virus that did not even exist when the Washington Nationals won the World Series in October.
The Phillies were supposed to be in Miami on Thursday for not just the start of another season but the start of a new era.
You could feel the optimism in Clearwater during spring training. New manager Joe Girardi had created a determined mood with his calming presence. The team was confident and playing well. The Phillies, at 14-5, had the best exhibition record in baseball when the games were stopped two weeks ago by the coronavirus pandemic.
Paul O’Neill, a Yankees broadcaster who won three World Series with Girardi as his teammate, gave a glimpse of how his old friend viewed the Phillies job before he accepted it.
“Usually they bring in a new guy to fix the team, but Joe knows that talent-wise the Phillies are a team that is ready to win,” O’Neill said. “He knows he is going to be expected to win from day one. There is not going to be a grace period.”
Girardi appeared to be managing that way in spring training. Maybe that meant nothing or maybe it would have been a springboard to the team’s first postseason appearance since 2011. It would have been nice to find out. Hopefully at some point we will, but there will be another spring training of sorts before the regular-season games begin in May or June or possibly even July.
Superstar Bryce Harper appeared comfortable and ready for a monster season that could have made him an MVP candidate. Now, he’s getting a lot more time to spend with his infant son, Krew, in Las Vegas.
Jean Segura looked good at third, Scott Kingery had settled in at second, and first baseman Rhys Hoskins was determined to prove that the second half of last season was an anomaly rather than the new norm.
Free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorious was going to give the Phillies added power and potential free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto was going to be playing for a contract, which often leads to great results.
Now, like so many of you, they are all just waiting to be told it is time to return to work.
A big crowd at Citizens Bank Park was not expected until next Thursday, when the Phillies were scheduled to play their home opener against Milwaukee, but cars have been lining up outside the ballpark since last Friday for drive-through COVID-19 testing, a grim and painful process taking place all over the country.
One of these days they’ll be tailgating again. The sweet scent of the fired-up barbecues will be back and we will enjoy the ballpark beer and hot dogs – even at their exorbitant prices – just a little bit more.
For now, however, we have to stay home and enjoy the memories of past games. My damaged brain has witnessed 25 of the Phillies’ last 31 opening days and all I need to do to activate the hippocampus is look at the scores of those games.
April 7, 1992, Cubs 4, Phillies 3: Greg Maddux hit Lenny Dykstra with the second pitch of the game. Dykstra kept playing, but X-rays afterward revealed that he had a fractured bone in his hand and that he was going to be out for a while. Manager Jim Fregosi, who boasted all spring training about how he had quit smoking during the offseason, had an ashtray with four cigarette butts sitting on his office desk.
April 10, 2010, Phillies 11, Washington 1: Roy Halladay’s Philadelphia debut. A brilliant start to a Cy Young Award season that would include a perfect game and postseason no-hitter.
March 31, 1998, Mets 1, Phillies 0, 14 innings: It was Bobby Abreu’s first game with the Phillies, Curt Schilling was brilliant, and neither team could score for 13 innings. A backup catcher who spent most of the game in the bullpen had the game-winning hit off Ricky Bottalico, who stormed off the mound steaming mad.
I could go on and on. It was sunny and relatively warm when the Phillies started their 1994 season opener in Denver, but frigid and snowing by the time the Phillies’ 12-6 marathon was over. And, of course, I’ll never forget the day Gabe Kapler decided to take Aaron Nola out after 68 pitches in Atlanta. Compared with what’s going on right now, that’s a pleasant memory.
Unfortunately, the old hippocampus is going to remember March 26, 2020, forever, too. It will always be known as the day that they did not play.