Opening Day 2014! I feel like I’ve been waiting so long for this. Finally, with new additions and a new spirit, my boys in pinstripes are back! Yes, along with the rest of MLB, but let’s be serious – the Yankees are the ones that matter most to me.
Opening Day signifies a lot for me. Yes, it’s the return of my favorite sport. Yes, I start to look a little normal with all my Yankee gear. Yes, it’s an exciting time. But, yes, it’s deeper than that.
For me, Opening Day is a direct representation of the bond I shared over baseball with my grandfather. As a native Long Islander living in Florida, he wasn’t surrounded by the same hype. But, every year on Opening Day, a call to or from my grandfather would start the day. Back and forth banter about how we thought the season was going to play out, player predictions, and the closing conversation of my favorite player, Derek Jeter.
In March of 2011, my grandfather was diagnosed with stage three lung cancer. At first, I couldn’t get on the phone to talk to him, I was too distraught. When I finally did get on the phone, it was Opening Day. I remember tip toeing around the inevitable while somehow managing to smile through my tears as we talked our Opening Day talk. Some things never change, despite outside forces, and for my grandfather and I, that something was Yankees’ baseball.
The end of June into July, my grandparents came up from Florida and stayed with us for a few weeks. Naturally a trip to the baseball cathedral was on the schedule. July 7, 2011, was my Poppie’s final baseball game. Memories of that day will forever be etched in my brain.
We were on the first base side, right behind the legend seats (which my grandfather and I got to sit in two years prior for our birthday celebration – thanks Mom and Dad). We had a Yankee attendant get us a wheelchair for my grandpa, and walk/wheel us to our section. I remember the attendant wheeled my Poppie to the wheelchair section at the back of the seats, assuming that’s where he would stay. My grandpa stood up, in his Lou Gehrig shirt, looked at the attendant, pointed down about eighteen rows and said, “There! I’m sitting down there!” And he did.
Once we were all seated, I noticed him getting a little emotional during batting practice. Derek Jeter was only three hits away from 3,000 at this point, and so I ventured off to go buy the DJ3K bracelets. They came in a package of two. I put one on and gave the other to my Poppie to wear. “We’re going to see him hit 3,000 today Poppie!” He just smiled.
Derek Jeter’s first at bat, the entire stadium was on their feet, including my Poppie; not letting his weakness overcome his love for the game and being involved. The wind up, the pitch… and Jeter gets a hit. I started jumping up and down with a smile ear to ear, truly believing we were going to see the 3,000th hit. I looked at my grandfather, “Poppie, it’s the power of our bracelets!” I laughed, and held up my hand for a high five. My grandfather reciprocated with a fist pound instead. I remember thinking, “Well how cool is he?” (Jeter didn’t get 3,000 until the next game, but we were just close enough to history).
During the seventh inning stretch, as we all stood, my grandpa started crying as Kate Smith’s rendition of God Bless America echoed throughout the stadium. I recall looking at him and crying because by the look on his face, I could see all his memories surrounding the game were being played out in his head. I can still see the grin on his face though; a look of gratitude for the game, the team, the life he lived.
As I said, some things don’t change; but sometimes some things do. My grandfather passed away at the end of August, just about a month and a half after that game. As life was changing for my family and I, baseball was still a stable constant. I would watch the games now, not just as a diehard fan, but as a way of feeling like my grandpa was still here.
Perhaps that’s why Jeter’s retirement at the end of this season hurts too. He was one of the constants that didn’t change after my view on life was changing. My team is changing, and my Poppie is not here to see it change with me. Maybe, subconsciously I feel like if the team changes completely from when he was alive, that special bond will also change.
Opening Day however is a powerful reminder for me that as life changes, as teams change, as players retire; the love I have for this game is infinite because of the infinite bond it has allowed for my grandfather and I to have.
Happy Opening Day!
Enjoy the game Poppie, I’m sure you’re sitting in the best seats, with great company.
Thanks for having the ladybug land on my car today, I know that was you.