New Year’s Day/Michael Bleach
I’ve never quite grasped the appeal of New Years resolutions.
So you want to lose weight, read more non-fiction, drink less Diet Coke, treat your siblings better, pay the bills on time, watch less TV, eat only one gallon of ice cream a week? Great. Do it.
How does the arbitrary turning of a new calendar determined by Julius Caesar over 2,000 years ago help motivate the completion of that goal? January 1 does not look a whole lot different from December 31, save the champagne driven hangover.
Driveways still need to be shoveled then, windshields still need to be scraped. Winter will be in full swing for another three months, hard and icy and cold. It may be a new year when you date a check – for that exercise equipment destined to sit in your garage likely – but there is little different practically.
Which is why Major League Baseball’s Opening Day should signal the turning of the New Year.
Think about it. You want an indication of change? Renewed passion? Warm weather? Opening Day covers that spectrum much better than January 1st does.
Look, I certainly don’t need to contribute another column full of shallow prose on the beauty of baseball’s first game. John Updike, Jim Murray, Frank DeFord and Joe Posnanski and the like can’t really be topped on that subject anyways.
But just because the innocence and hope and dreams that accompany Opening Day have been covered so often it feels routine as a groundball to short doesn’t make it any less true.
The green grass, the crack of the bat, a crisp beer in the afternoon, clean jerseys, Vin Scully’s voice rolling over you like honey on warm bread – these may be clichs but they are clichs we can rally around.
Beautiful and true. Life affirming really.
But I get ahead of myself.
First, let me share a story, apropos of little.
About this time two years ago, Sports Illustrated published a lengthy feature basically taking down then-UCLA men’s basketball coach Ben Howland from every angle possible.
The story had everything a good college scandal needs. SI alleged, through a variety of anonymous sources, that Howland showed distinct differences in the rules he applied to star players and bench scrubs. Howland allowed one particular player, Reeves Nelson, to bully, physically and emotionally, less-talented teammates constantly. Howland allowed the star-driven L.A. nightlife to sweep up his players as long as they kept producing wins. Drugs and alcohol were abundant.
The program was crumbling from within, SI claimed. Howland had lost control, and didn’t seem all that huffed about getting it back.
He was the nightmare college coach depicted by Jon Voight in made-for-cable sports movies. A villain through and through.
Sitting with Michigan Tech men’s basketball coach Kevin Luke in his office around that time, I asked if he had read it, interesting in gathering another college coach’s opinion.
Luke said he didn’t believe it.
Couldn’t believe it, really. A story based on anonymous sources, even in Sports Illustrated, was missing something. He thought Howland deserved the benefit of the doubt.
This kind of shocked me.
Not only did I just assume Howland was every bit the sleazebag SI made him out to be, I didn’t question it for a second.
At the time, I chalked it up to the difference in our professions. Luke defended the coach, I defended the journalist. Makes sense.
Only now, that I think about it, I’m not sure that was really the case. I’d be ready to believe the worst in people whether I was a sports writer, an engineer or a coach.
Luke, as a natural motivator and shaper of young men, probably sees the best in most cases. I’m willing to believe he would be that way no matter his job too.
So on this Opening Day, I’m trying to shed the cynicism that weighs down every opinion I form.
I’m going to believe, despite historical evidence to the contrary, that the Brewers have a playoff roster on hand. I’m going to try and forgive Ryan Braun for lying, lying about the lie and then refusing to talk about lying about the lie. I don’t know if I will succeed, but if I can land in a state of healthy ambivalence toward Braun, that is probably good enough.
If I were a Tigers fan, I would believe Alex Gonzalez’s game-winning hit Monday was a sign of things to come, not an easy blind-squirrel-finds-a-nut metaphor for an aging shortstop finding the sweet spot. I would believe that Miguel Cabrera’s contract will go at least five years before it decimates the Tigers’ chances of building a contender.
Like most New Years resolutions, the chances of success in this venture are probably low.
But right now, I believe.
The grass is green. The beer is crisp. The Brewers are 1-0.
It’s Opening Day. I believe.