Sportsetera: Opening Day

"World Series 2004" by Anne Grandin captures the pomp and hoopla, the excitement and anticipation of the fall classic. — Photo courtesy of Anne Grandin

Times correspondent Jack Shea shares his thoughts on sports on-Island and further afield in this weekly look outside the white lines. This week, he celebrates Opening Day at Fenway on Friday, April 4.

Not to go all John Updike here, but it is Opening Day at The Ballyard next week and lyric thoughts are in order.

The MLB millionaires are done playing catch in Florida. They’ve picked their game music (hoping Nava goes with “Chariots of Fire.”) They got game faces on and they’re velcro-ing ’em up for real. Showtime.

Opening Day is like Inauguration Day to me. Better, now that I think about it. Before Obama, the last time I had real, genuine rooting interest was JFK.

I  worked at Fenway as a kid, selling appropriately-priced food and souvenirs. “Peanuts he-ah. Getcha scoahcahd! Red hot peanuts!” The mantra said a thousand times a day. Climbing miles of stairs for short money. Best job I ever had.

As an Opening Day fan, you didn’t mind that the peanuts were neither red nor hot, nor that the 25-cent hot dog was a potential prelude for ptomaine. Neither did I. Later on in the season you would mind, when the Sox were 15 games out and falling fast, but not on Opening Day. ‘Cuz before Shem Feller tolled the lineups and a pol threw out the first pitch, the Red Sox were in first place and would remain there for at least two hours. Maybe longer if Teddy Ballgame crushed one.

Opening Day creates an ascendancy in our spirit. It overcomes all the changes in the game and in the stadia. It survives the crappy PR from PEDs; it’s even overcome Red Sox success. Three Boston Red Sox World Series rings in ten years and still the butterflies are busy while we’re waiting for Lester and hoping Papi’s .050 spring average is a blip.

There will be a shadow on this opening day. The reality of the Jennifer Martel-Jared Remy story will be with us. Reality trumps baseball and this case is unlikely to present the healing effect that Big Papi’s post-Marathon speech last year had on the entire community and nation.

Papi’s angry f-bomb remarks resonated with a politically-correct populace because we wished we were screaming it…For me, they can extend Papi’s contract til he’s 50. He earned it that day.

Papi got a PC pass because baseball players are more like us than are athletes in other sports. They go to work every day for six months, they work in all four seasons with rare days off, the only outdoor sport that does that. Success in baseball requires first a willingness to show up and do the job every day, just like we do. I’ve always gotten that.

I knew some of the oldtimers — Williams, Jensen and Jimmy Piersall — enough to recognize them as working men. When athletes were stars but not icons. A favorite story: summer resident John Lopat recalls his father packing a lunch at home in The Bronx before walking to Yankee Stadium and turning into “Steady Eddie” Lopat, Yankee ace.

The money athletes make used to bother me until the Justice department finally got busy and busted a few CEOs. Call it The Madoff Effect. And let’s be honest, billionaire CEOs, even the honest ones, aren’t as entertaining as a utility guy making $5 million a year. At least he can hit the breaking ball a little.

So it’s baseball for me. Golf and tennis are artistry that shakes my head. Basketball can be like that too. Hockey, lacs and football are visceral, fast and violent. They fire us up.

Baseball is where we live.