“Anticipation – the action of anticipating something; expectation or prediction”
2017 Opening Day is here, and once again, hope springs eternal in the heart of this Dodgers fan.
I have been a baseball fan since the Expos lost the NLCS to the Dodgers in October 1981, when I felt so bad for nice guy Expos manager Jim Fanning that I bawled my little 9-year old eyes out. It’s always been that way for me – loving and admiring the play and mastery on the field, yet being most drawn to the emotional side of the game, to the people who play/manage/live the game day to day.
While the sport’s involvement in my own day to day life has ebbed and flowed over the last 36 years, I’m grateful it has brought me to my current state of full-on emotionally invested, diehard, watch-every-game, hardcore Los Angeles Dodgers fan … never more excited for a season to begin, and ready to cherish every moment.
Each year, baseball’s Opening Day is unique in the excitement, hope and optimism it elicits in its fans. Everyone is in first place on Opening Day; everything is still possible. Still, I’ve been trying to figure out why the anticipation leading up to this season seems so much greater than in year’s past. Yes, we all want to continue the magic of last year’s season. Spring training was longer this year, making the wait longer, and baseball starting up again feels a bit like returning to school and seeing all of your friends again after a long summer break.
This are all true. But there is more. Something is different this year.
I previously didn’t have any experience with knowing what is feels like to follow a championship team, one in its prime as it feels like the Dodgers are. As a young Expos fan growing up in Canada, baseball was a lifeline of sorts for me during my sometimes turbulent teenage years, but I never really knew what it was like to watch a really, really good organization take the field and go about its business. I hung on every run, every game, every great play that Tim Wallach made at the Hot Corner like it was going to save my life, but there was always that underlying feeling of “when are the wheels going to fall off?” as they inevitably did, each and every year.
Even when I re-discovered my great love of the game in early 2014, those first two NL West winning Dodgers seasons were permeated with what I like to refer to as “wishful optimism”, filling the wide open space between Kershaw/Greinke starts and whatever might happen in between. Who’s fighting in the clubhouse now? What does Don Mattingly really mean by that? Why is Carl Crawford even on this team? Who is Red Patterson? Will the Dodgers ever score a run again with the bases loaded?!? I remained hopeful throughout both seasons, because frankly this team was still playing lights out compared to anything I had ever seen out of my once-beloved Expos, but it still felt like being in a constant state of holding one’s breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Then, Dave Roberts was hired, the culture started to change, and the glorious, magical 2016 season unfolded in all of its unpredictable ways.
Which leads us to here, to the 2017 campaign about to get under way and this unfamiliar feeling of anticipation mixed with excitement. Gone is the underlying dread of past seasons, knowing that even when things go slightly off the rails as they inevitably will, the management and character of this team will right the ship, and regardless of the final outcome, we are going to be treated to one special year.
For this lifelong baseball fan, finally, the optimism doesn’t feel at all wishful – it just feels real, and very, very good. Now, when friends ask me how the Dodgers season looks, I just smile and actually believe it when I say “They’re in pretty good shape – it’s a deep, talented roster, and they’re resilient. I’m not worried”.
I have a feeling this optimism and excitement will last well beyond Opening Day.