Baseball: Thoughts on Opening Day

I was about eight or nine years old when I first went to a baseball game at Tiger Stadium with my family. I remember that we crossed into the United States in our car over the light blue span of the Ambassador Bridge, drove past the abandoned Michigan Central Station and then parked behind the Firestone tire shop on the south side of Michigan Avenue. I remember walking across the cobblestones of Michigan Avenue to the north side of the street and then past the souvenir shops towards the gates of the main entrance at the intersection with Trumball Avenue. I recall proudly showing the gate attendant my ticket and then walking with throngs of other fans slowly up the pedestrian ramps to the upper deck. As we walked, I remember scanning the signs to spot our section number and I remember how our usher would show us to our row and give the seats a quick wipe with a damp sponge he pulled out of his pocket (and my Dad giving him a few dollars as a tip for doing so).

In my mind, I can still see the brightness of the green grass on the field, the towering flag in centre field, and I can smell the stadium – roasted almonds, in particular. All of my kid senses were on high alert as I settled into my seat. Going to a live ball game was a special treat (bear in mind that all of this happened long before cable sports, the internet and social media sites; it still boggles my mind that I can watch any live MLB game on my iPhone). I remember that when “Sweet” Lou Whittaker was announced as the next batter the crowd would let out a loud, but low-pitched cry: “Louuuuuuu”. I remember standing up to participate in The Wave when it came through our section and I remember cheering “Let’s Go Tigers!” followed by eleven crisp claps in a familiar rhythm; Tigers’ fans are characters in their own right.

Until I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, I typically fell asleep each night during the season listening to Ernie Harwell calls games on WJR Radio (“The Great Voice of the Great Lakes”) and I can still hear Ernie’s voice telling me that the opposing batter ‘stood there like a house on the side of a road’ as the third strike went past. Nobody calls a baseball game today like the great Ernie Harwell did.

As a young adult, my interest in baseball waned. I guess I was busy with school, part-time jobs and a social life. Hockey and football seemed to be more popular then. But as I have gotten older my affection for baseball has deepened greatly. I have begun to read books about the game’s history and I find myself often using baseball analogies in my conversations with clients. I recently reminded a client, who was feeling dejected about her situation, that a ‘homerun is always just one swing away’. She nodded her head affirmatively in reply. She knew what I meant.

Today, I am fortunate to be a Tigers season ticketholder. I sit directly above the team’s dugout, on an aisle, and about twenty rows up from the field. I still proudly hand the gate attendant my ticket to enter Comerica Park. And I still scan the signs of the concourse for our section (though I could get there with my eyes closed). I still like to show our usher my ticket. My son, who is eight, is also an avid Tigers’ fan, and it is a delight for me to watch him learn about the game (and leave all the electronic devices behind) and take in the sights and sounds of the ballpark while spending a few hours with his family. Miguel Cabrera is his favourite player – and it is pretty hard to argue with that choice!

Sitting in Comerica Park is one of the most relaxing things I know to do and it always feels like an escape from the day to day worries I carry around.

I now see a lot of parallels between the work I do as a lawyer, helping clients get through something difficult, and the game of baseball. Sometimes the game requires a moment of finesse and other times it requires an overpowering effort. Not every hitter can send the ball to the opposite field. Not every pitcher can throw a wipe-out slider. There is no clock in baseball and the passage of time is irrelevant; it’s the end result that matters most. Even if you lose, there is always a chance to win the next day. All of these things are also true in my cases.

A new season is about to start. Every team has an equal chance. There is nothing like Opening Day and I’ll be in my seat for that first home game – hoping fervently, as I did when I was a young boy, that this will be the year when my beloved Tigers will win the World Series again. May it be so.

Let’s play ball!

Bill Simpson

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