Yesterday Marta and I went to Opening Day of the baseball season, and got to watch an exciting baseball game in which the Tigers beat the Royals (yay) in the bottom of the ninth (very yay) after coming back from two runs down in the seventh (yay again). The new manager did three things that the old manager had never done, each of them leading to extended conversation on the way home. (For those of you who are dying to know, see the appendix below). It was a fine baseball game, close, mostly well-played (well, there were two errors so not that well-played), with some clutch hitting, elegant fielding, a comeback, interesting managerial strategy, and other features that make baseball fans happy and bore the rest of the population to tears. And the home team – our team– won, which felt especially good after Michigan’s close loss to Kentucky in basketball the day before, and, by the way, let me register another chorus of yays for our amazing basketball team and its wonderful coach.
But unlike the basketball game, which was about basketball, and unlike almost all baseball games, especially those in which a sellout crowd watches the home team come back late and win in the bottom of the ninth, Opening Day was not mostly about baseball, but about Spring, and about the openings that go with spring. I have been to many baseball games, but Opening Day in Detroit is something else.
Ernie Harwell, the great baseball announcer who broadcast Tigers games on the radio for decades used to quote from the Song of Solomon (2:11-12) every spring. The same lines are part of the Seder ceremony, in the Passover Haggadah, although the version of the Haggadah that I use says “dove” where Harwell and the King James Bible say “turtle.” (I’m guessing there is a turtledove lurking behind this conundrum, and would be grateful for more information.)
“For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” (Click here for Harwell’s rendition.)
The song in which these lines are embedded is a song about physical love, and is, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty sexy. So, too, is the scene at Comerica Park on opening day. People are there to see and be seen, to strut their stuff, to celebrate the end of a long winter and exult in the joy of spring and the symbol of spring and the summer to come that is baseball. We had to park much further from the stadium than we usually do, because thousands of participants came to the scene rather than the game, hanging out in parking lots and on the street within shouting distance of stadium drinking and dancing and partying, while tens of thousand more did go to the ballpark, where there was also a fair portion of drinking and dancing and partying, which I have no doubt extended well into the night for many.
Marta and I, staid old sexagenarians that we are, hiked the mile back to our car and then drove home, talking about baseball and the opening of the season, and Opening Day and the opening of pretty much everything else. I’m confident that at the next game we attend the crowd will be more into the game, but it’s good to know that in the background the turtle (or dove) will keep on singing.
The three things that Ausmus did that generated baseball talk were: (1) employing a shift against Royals 3rd-baseman Mike Moustakas, in which the Tigers shortstop played behind and between the first and second basemen (Moustakas went zero for four); (2) using his closer in the top of the 9th in a tie game, apparently confident (correctly) that the Tigers would score in the bottom of the 9th to win) and (3) putting in a pinch runner for the Tigers’ relatively slow catcher (not relative to catchers, but relative to ballplayers, as is often the case with catchers) with one on and one out in the 9th. The pinch-runner scored the winning run, having advanced to 3rd on a single.)