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Opening Day Doesn’t Need Government Help To Be A National Holiday

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With Major League Baseball’s opening day upon us, folks petitioned the White House to make opening day a national holiday. More than 100,000 people signed the following:

MLB Opening Day is more than just the beginning of the season. It’s a symbol of rebirth. The coming of spring. The return of America’s national pastime. It’s a state of mind where anything is possible. You can feel the electricity in the air. Opening Day brings with it the promise of a new beginning. Every fan is in good spirits. It’s a day of celebration. It’s a day of hope. It’s a day that, for generations, has been looked forward to by baseball fans every off-season. It’s an American tradition, and it deserves to be recognized as an American holiday. Join us in our quest to make sure every American can exercise their inalienable right to celebrate the day those two magical words are uttered for the first time: “PLAY BALL!”

Sounds great, no? Or what about Greg Abel, the boss in Baltimore who declared that his office would be open on George Washington’s birthday but closed on Opening Day. In a piece explaining his decision he wrote:

With all due respect to the past leaders of our country, I believe (feel free to mentally cue “America the Beautiful” in your mind as you read this) that as a small business owner, I should have the right to choose when I open and close the office. I believe in baseball, good people of Baltimore, and have decided to take the full day off on March 31. On that day, our Orioles will take on the Boston Red Sox, with the first pitch scheduled for 3:05 p.m.

My faithful employees (all nine of them) will also get the day off, courtesy of the guy who didn’t give them off on President’s Day.

And so now I ask you, fellow leaders and decision makers in this fair city, take a bold step along with me and say to all who will hear you, “I will not work on Opening Day. I will not make others work on Opening Day. I will make Opening Day a Baltimore holiday.”

As a baseball fanatic, half of me loves this movement to make Opening Day a national or city holiday. The whole petition drive was spearheaded by Budweiser and Ozzie Smith, one of my favorite players ever and my absolute favorite player during my entire childhood. But because of my love for baseball, I have to be the bearer of bad news. It’s, well, wrong.

Playing Hooky Is A Necessary Part Of The Deal

When the local baseball team plays its first game of the season at home, every single baseball fanatic worth his or her salt will show up at the ball park. To get there, they must play hooky. This is actually one of the most important parts of the Opening Day tradition. I’ve attended every home opener save one since 1993. And whether that meant I was watching the game at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Coors Field in Denver, Camden Yards in Baltimore, RFK in D.C. or Nationals Park in D.C., I have played hooky for each and every game. I have blatantly skipped out of class or faked illness or otherwise blew off work. I have told crazy stories or just slipped out when no one was looking. This is, incidentally, why Opening Day should be a day game. But more on that in a bit.

I have a group of friends I’ve gone to most home openers with since the late 1990s. Perhaps our favorite was the one that featured a mid-game snow delay at Camden that caught us completely by surprise. We were so cold that we couldn’t drink any beer and the game was delayed when the snow was so heavy that half of the fielders all held up their mitts to catch a ball that dropped — everyone lost it in the blizzard. I went to one game at RFK so pregnant and so late from work that I was worried I’d miss opening pitch (I loudly explained to everyone that a pregnant lady was “coming through” and Nats fans and ushers happily let me on by so I could make it. That 1993 home opener at Mile High Stadium? I was one of the 80,000 (not a typo) people who got to see Eric Young hit the lead-off homer.

Early on I’d told one of these friends that I was going to ask for the day off of work, just to make sure I could make the game. He chastised me and explained that, technically, you’re supposed to be the work equivalent of truant if you want to do it right. He’s absolutely right. If you have any confusion about how this works, rewatch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off until you have a general feel for why breaking the rules is a major factor in the day’s fun.

Uh, When Is Opening Day, Exactly?

This used to be a very easy question to answer before bad people started messing with everything. But it’s quite difficult now. Technically, this year it got underway on March 22 when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks did a two-game series down under.

But that would be crazy to consider that Opening Day. And then Major League Baseball, under its evil commissioner Bud Selig, made the first stateside Opening Day happen a day prior to most other games … and at night. That was last night, between the Dodgers and Padres. So, yeah, the Dodgers have played three games by the time nearly every other team starts playing.

Today and tonight we’ll have 26 teams playing. Nine games during daylight and four at night. And then we have another “Opening Day” game on Tuesday. At night.

So we have four different dates for Opening Day, tons of games happening at night, and I’m confused. Which date would be Opening Day? And why are we having a day off of work if so many of the games are at night? And have we thought about the fact that, by definition, half of the teams aren’t playing in their own city?

Would it end up being like all of those holidays that are marked on the calendar like Washington’s Birthday, that gets moved around to a Monday and changed to “Washington’s Birthday (observed).” So we’d have some random day that we all take off even if our actual Opening Day game isn’t being played that day? Opening Day (observed)? Madness.

And What Are You Supposed To Do On This Holiday?

At best there’s only room for, what, three-quarters of a million people to actually attend these games in person. The in-person part is key for serious fans — there’s a carnival atmosphere outside the part and it’s the only regular season game during the year in which the entire rosters of both teams (including coaches and clubhouse staff) are introduced. The rest of the year you only get the starting lineup.

Anyway, few baseball parks hold 50,000 fans and most are far below that. So we have a federal holiday and everyone who doesn’t have tickets to the game … what? Sits around a television that night to watch their game? If you put it that way, doesn’t it sound like having a federal holiday to watch a Royal Wedding? And do we really need federal holidays for television events?

Baseball isn’t even supposed to be watched on television, is it? Apart from being there in person — and sometimes even then — there is nothing better than listening to a game on the radio. Still, even that is best done alone or in very small groups.

We Can Do Things Without Government Help

One of my Opening Day buddies signed the petition, even though he basically disagreed with it. Another one, though, argued “We don’t need Government to tell us that something is awesome. We don’t need a President or Congress to make this more special, and in fact, there’s a real argument that doing so might make it less special. Maybe that’s what is beautiful about Opening Day. Those who know, just…know.”

It’s one thing to have the day off if you’re a Cincinnati fan. They have baseball’s first professional team and a big annual parade and city holiday. Everyone takes the day off to cheer the Reds. They’re supposed to have the first pitch of every major league season out of tradition. But Evil Bud Selig (this is how I’ve taught my children to say his name and they do know it’s his last season) does these night-before games and season openers in other countries. This year Cincinnati has a late day opener against my boys from St. Louis.

For my home opener this year, I’ll be heading with my same group of friends over to Nationals Park. We’ve been planning everything out to the last detail. We’ll all play hooky and meet at a friend’s house right near the park. Whatever you do, don’t tell my boss.

As George Will puts it, “Baseball is a habit. The slowly rising crescendo of each game, the rhythm of the long season — these are the essentials and they are remarkably unchanged over nearly a century and a half. Of how many American institutions can that be said?” He’s right. And playing hooky on Opening Day is just one part of that tradition. Let’s keep it.

Follow Mollie on Twitter.