The Nostalgic Qualities of Opening Day

Tyler Buchanan 3/31/14

Every baseball fan goes through this. Players are not immortal, not yet anyways. There’s that moment when a new season arrives and one realizes that pretty much all the players of their youth are gone.

Gone, gone, gone. Played, got old, retired. The constants of our baseball lives, of Mariano Rivera coming in for the save and the Derek Jeter jump throws and all that. Even if we’re not a fan of their teams, or even of them, having that connection knowing “they’ve been around since I remember following the sport” is comforting.

And there comes a time when all the players in Spring Training seem like they are 17 years old and ripe with opportunity. It’s an exciting new chapter, surely — of Jose Fernandez and Freddie Freeman and a host of new stars.

But there’s still a little magic left. We lose a little bit each year. Last year it was Rivera, Helton, Berkman, Pettitte and Halladay. The year before it was Kerry Wood, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel. Then it was guys like Pudge, Manny, Griffey, Kendall, Edmonds, Pedro, Nomar, and so on.

There’s still a few left. Bartolo Colon, hey, I remember him when he was with the Tribe, back in the 90s. And Jason Giambi,he and his brother played on the same team for a few years, didn’t they? Jason was always the better one…

Jeter stands out, of course. Alex Rodriguez, too. Other active players from the 1990s include Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Henry Blanco, Torii Hunter, David Ortiz, Bruce Chen, Placido Polanco, Tim Byrdak (no, really), Paul Konerko, Eric Chavez, Ryan Dempster, A.J. Pierzynski, Aramis Ramirez, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Farnsworth, Freddy Garcia, Tim Hudson, John McDonald and Alfonso Soriano.

Not all those players will elicit MLB-wide tears upon their retirement announcement. Most of us probably won’t mourn the loss of childhood innocence when Bruce Chen and Kyle Farnsworth retire. But there’s definitely a few (A-Rod, Jeter, Ortiz and Konerko stand out) that will.

Most of these players feel like past tense. When I think of Freddy Garcia, I think of a young starter for the Mariners that a girl I knew had a crush on back in middle school. I remember filling out custom-named teams on an old SNES baseball game (which came with default names), not knowing how to spell Pierzynski’s name, and just putting AJP.

Others, like Beltre and Ortiz, still of course command present tense attention. It’s a reminder of how truly incredible (and rare) it is for a major league player to stay at the top for so long.

A-Rod might get the most attention of all when he hangs up his spikes, but it will hard to imagine anyone topping the ensuing reminiscence and year-long coronation scheduled for Jeter in his final season.

The excitement of the newer class of players joining the ranks of veteranship is part of the baseball cycle of life. There’s still a little bit in me that wants to see Hunter rob another home run, Soriano pull one out and even A-Rod crush one to the gap.

Maybe it’s the kid in me.


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