Opening Day is my favorite time of year. Forget the score of the game. Yes, we all hope for a win, but we hope for that every other game too. Opening Day is about renewal and hope. We’re all undefeated on Opening Day. The ballpark is clean. The air is crisp. The crowd is happy to be back in their familiar seats around familiar faces. Positivity is the main theme.
No other opening matches the renewal that Opening Day provides. Sure, the first game of FSU Football is exciting, but it’s also the signal that we’re soon headed to the end of the year hustle and bustle. NASCAR makes the Daytona 500 a huge deal, but I’ve never understood why they shoot off all of their fireworks on the first weekend of the season by having their “Super Bowl” first. Hockey has a great opener if you’re the previous season’s Stanley Cup champion, but that’s only for one team.
Opening Day is about fathers and sons. It’s about getting out of work. It’s about leaving the winter’s negativity behind. It’s about a tasty hot dog and a schedule magnet. It’s about imperfect play being perfectly acceptable. It’s about reconnecting with the perfect game, the sport that has no clock and is theoretically infinite.
Professional football is huge. College football is huge and getting bigger with every ESPN TV contract a conference signs. People love football. It’s exciting to watch at the professional level and it’s a bonding ritual on Saturdays in the South. It’s America’s most watched sport by far. So when I was watching Morning Joe the other day, they shocked me with a story that participation in youth football is declining.
Why? Concussions. The NFL has a mega lawsuit on its hands. Former players are claiming that the NFL knew about concussion risks long ago, but sacrificed player safety for the almighty TV dollar. Did they? I don’t know. What I know is that I’ve read many accounts of Post-Concussion Syndrome. I watched my favorite players over the years suffer from symptoms for long periods of time (Wayne Chrebet comes to mind). More recently, there’s Junior Seau’s suicide. It isn’t the first time a former NFL player took his life while leaving his brain intact for potential concussion impact study, but the timing of it and the shock of it puts it in the forefront of the football concussion debate.
All of this leads to a growing debate about whether kids should play tackle football or not. There are a ton of really good articles about youth football, concussions, and whether kids should play the sport.
So what’s the right move? I’ve heard friends say that their kids won’t play football, but will play baseball, basketball, hockey or soccer instead. Here’s the issue though, none of those are truly safe either. Between an aching shoulder, a knee that can tell me that a thunderstorm is on the way and major injury on two different occasions, I can tell you that baseball is just as bad as, if not worse than, football in my instance. In soccer, head injuries happen. Hockey is the same. If we’re trying to avoid every potential injury, every potential concussion, we’re going to have to lock everyone in a padded room. It’s up to parents to find a balance.
I’m all for safety. I’m all for equipment improvements. I’m all for enforcing the rules and flushing out bad coaches that teach bad technique, bad sportsmanship and bad attitudes. At the same time, we all have to live our lives. Education of risk is the key. There’s an associated risk of waking up every day and getting out of bed, but we all do it. Some of us take risky jobs, others don’t. It’s all choice. Let’s not overreact, let’s get more facts and when the verdict is finally in, let’s let them play.
I’ve gone to NCAA Baseball Regionals in Tallahassee for years. I started attending them as a student and continue today. It’s just as exciting and fun as ever. This year we were lucky enough to not only watch the Seminoles dominate the weekend, but to have three other really great fan bases. Kudos to the Mississippi State, UAB and Samford fans. They couldn’t have been better. They are educated baseball fans, friendly, intense and they travel extremely well. It was a nice change of pace. Nothing against the usual suspects that usually make it to Tallahassee like Jacksonville or Bethune-Cookman, but this year things felt a little more friendly and a little more fun.
The Samford baseball team was an especially bright spot to watch. First off, they had sharp looking uniforms. While I’m not quite the same level of uniform freak as some of my friends, I am very happy when we get a sharp looking uniform on the field. UAB and Mississippi State get an honorable mention too, for not having anything outlandish or ugly. Samford’s play was the non-Noles highlight for me. They are a talented group that just ran out of steam against the Noles. The Bulldogs eliminated the SEC Champion Mississippi State, which is a nice consolation prize for the end of the season.
I am happy to see the little improvements that FSU makes for the fans. The Big Ass Fans were very helpful in keeping the upper grandstand comfortable. It was hot, especially on Sunday, but it was far better than in previous years. Also, while I did not buy a cold towel, I was pleased to see the vendors giving fans the option of buying a cold pack to cool down. Now if we could just get the M&M’s Ice Cream Sandwiches back…
And what can I say about FSU? Everyone freaked out about our bracket last week, but when I looked at the stats and not the conference championships, I realized that FSU had a great chance to make it through in three straight games. They did it behind good defense, great pitching and one huge grand slam by James Ramsey. Speaking of Ramsey, it seems like every season I think to myself I’d better pay attention to (insert Posey, McGee, etc) because we won’t have another great like this for a while. Ramsey is the latest player to make me feel that, but at the same time we’ve strung so many great players together that I’m ready to find out who our next great is and not worry about Ramsey heading off to MLB.
Oh and one more thing. By far, Robert Benincasa’s intro music as a closer is my favorite. It gets everyone at Dick Howser Stadium out of their seats and clapping. I don’t remember that happening in the past. Bring The Noise!
I fell in love with baseball when I was a little kid. I grew up watching the Mets mainly and my first live game was at Shea Stadium in 1985. Seeing George Foster and John Christensen hit back to back home runs is burned into my memory still. When I arrived at FSU as a student, I saw a really awesome college baseball stadium in addition to the great palace that is Doak Campbell Stadium. Dick Howser Stadium was intimate and had some fantastic views of campus from the 1B side and a beautiful set of pine trees behind the “screen monster” in RF.
Post renovation we lost the pine trees but gained a better view of the FSU Flying High Circus, gained a great scoreboard, better seating and generally better food choices making Dick Howser Stadium a favorite place during a Tallahassee spring. Not only to the Noles win most of the time, but it’s a relaxed but exciting atmosphere between an older crowd and lots of students. It’s a really great mix of people. Oh and I did I mention, we have Big Ass Fans now? We’ll find out over the next two weekends how much they really help the temperature in the sauna that is the stadium.
Keith Cottrell harassing roommate (and now MLB Braves player) Matt Diaz in RF for inning after inning.
A particular Florida Gator RF that couldn’t take the constant heckling from fans and eventually was removed from the game.
Telling the hecklers that the Gator moved to LF for the next game and watching them run to the 3B side.
A friend of mine dropping his watch.
Seeing the “giant” new scoreboard and thinking it would be a long time before anybody hit a home run over it.
Watching it be cleared about two games into the season.
M&M’s ice cream sandwiches (come on Aramark make a deal and get them back, they’re the perfect food for Regionals).
Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, a Seminole fan or not, it’s worth a look. It’s especially worth a look on one of Tallahassee’s beautiful spring days and you’re looking for an excuse to be outside.