Still the SkyDome on Opening Day
The Town Crier takes a brief break from Andy Verboom’s guest series to bring you the latest from the SkyDome in this special feature from E Martin Nolan.
Tonight’s Blue Jays home opener marks the yearly renewal of Major League Baseball in Toronto and Canada. It ushers in another long, sweet summer of game after game after game. To capture the spirit of this moment, I asked David James Brock, Andrew Forbes, and Stacey May Fowles to reflect on the occasion of opening day.
For more Puritan baseball coverage, check out “Close Reading on the Pitcher’s Mound,” in which writers and pitchers are compared, as well as a conversation about Andrew Forbes’ The Utility of Baseball (in which we also discuss the baseball writing of Stacey May Fowles).
David James Brock: A Homer Odyssey
The obvious ol’ writing professor teaches that drama is about characters who change, for example, Odysseus, who goes on a ten-year journey (or, what a baseball season can feel like as a fan), then returns home transformed by the experience. The professor complicates things for effect, asking, “But can people really change?” Heads nod, for some reason.
Early season baseball is all possibility, and home openers line those first pages of an epic requiring 162 scenes. For most of my baseball-watching-life (which is most of my life), my opening day excitement hasn’t applied to the root-root-for-the-home-team Blue Jays—it focused on the team I grew up obsessing on, the hat I’ve worn since I was knee high to Telemachus: the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers were, and are, a team I think about often in a self-fascinated, historical context: my first professional baseball game at Tiger Stadium; learning to read, maybe, via Windsor newspaper coverage of the 1984 World Series champions; the first two plays I wrote centring on Detroit Tigers’ fans and players.
But the past few seasons, I wear a Toronto Blue Jays’ hat … sometimes.
Nothing is bread that is weaker than man, and while a cap change whiffs of homerism and bandwagon jumping, given that the Jays are going to the World Series in 2017, it’s a Herculean task to resist transformation into fandom when an exciting team is on my TV give-or-take 550 total hours between opening day and game seven of the World Series.
The Jays’ cap will be a prominent part of this summer’s journey. Toronto is an epic place to be when baseball happens. The 2017 home opener is an obvious ol’ touchstone that Toronto is my home now. That drama is about characters that change. Please nod.
Andrew Forbes: Openers
Harry Wright assembled the first professional baseball team in Cincinnati in 1869. He fled to Boston when his team’s fortunes dipped in Ohio, but baseball had been sewn into the soil; there has been a team in Cincinnati in either the American Association or the National League in an uninterrupted succession of years since 1876. And in each of those years, that Cincinnati team has played a first game of the season, which means that there have been 141 consecutive Opening Days there. That suggests to me continuity of a sort so steadfast that it verges on natural phenomenon. Many of our institutions fade or fold, suspend operations, or get labelled obsolete.
For that reason, baseball’s return always seems to come with the implicit suggestion that we can and we will get by, not matter how hard things get.
Opening Day speaks of an unbroken line; it’s a reliable marker, a milestone attesting that we’ve survived another winter, and so have earned the promise of warmer days, afternoons and evenings filled with the game that sits virtually alone atop the list of things which have given me uncomplicated joy since my very earliest memory.
I was not yet a year old when the Blue Jays played their first home opener—a snowy April afternoon during which Doug Ault hit two homers to beat the White Sox—and so even Toronto’s relatively novel inclusion in the big leagues is for me a lifelong affair. It’s been around as long as I have, and with any luck it will continue long after I am gone. What’s more it has, unlike so many things, actually improved over time. For as long as the Jays play in their dome, no opener will ever be rained out (or snowed out). And now it is possible to buy a beer at a Blue Jays game, something which could not be said about Exhibition Stadium in 1977.
Stacey May Fowles: A Way to Be Okay
Holly Wendt, a writer I greatly admire, once described the space between the last game of the baseball season and opening day as “The Long Dark.” It’s a phrase that has stuck with me since I first read it in 2013, but it has felt especially relevant in the last six months (for some pretty obvious reasons).
Since the Cubs captured World Series rings for the first time in 108 years, this recent, wintery void has dragged on and demoralized so many of us, made us feel hopeless and hardened with each passing day, and with every piece of terrible news. I am certainly not claiming that baseball’s return will suddenly solve the chaos that’s in our headlines, but for so many fans, the game offers simple company and comfort, and just as its absence was felt more acutely than ever, its return can make a real difference in their day-to-day.
Since I started writing about baseball, I’ve heard from countless fellow fans who have told me that they have used the game as a coping mechanism in their darkest moments. They’d turn it on their television, or take a trip to the ballpark, if only to find something to do when they were lonely, or grieving, or unwell—when they felt like they were at their lowest point. It never stops amazing me how a love for this game, or anything outside oneself really, can push people through their worst. For that reason, baseball’s return always seems to come with the implicit suggestion that we can and we will get by, not matter how hard things get. It says, as it waves hello, “Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to be okay.”
David James Brock is the author of Everyone is CO2. His second poetry collection, Ten Headed Alien, arrives in 2018. He is currently writing a triptych of new operas with Toronto’s Fawn Chamber Creative to premiere in spring 2018. His poem “The Little Punks Have Always Counted” was published in The Puritan Issue 36
Andrew Forbes is the author of the story collection What You Need, as well as The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario. His short story collection, What You Need, was reviewed in The Puritan Issue 31.
Stacey May Fowles has written about sports for the Globe and Mail, The Walrus, National Post, Deadspin, Hazlitt, and Vice Sports. Her essay collection, Baseball Life Advice, is out now.