Columns, Sports

Schapiro ’19: Give Opening Day its due

By
Sports Columnist
Thursday, April 6, 2017

A few years ago, Budweiser began promoting a White House petition aimed at making Major League Baseball’s Opening Day a national holiday. After it surpassed the requisite 100,000 signatures a few days before the deadline, it was considered by the Obama White House. I was a signatory, so I received the response from Josh Earnest, deputy press secretary at the time, and — even though he seems like a nice guy on TV — a Royals fan.

“For more than a century, American presidents have celebrated Opening Day — from President William Taft’s 1910 first pitch from the stands to former President Barack Obama toeing the rubber at Nationals Park in 2010,” it read. For a White House Press Secretary, Earnest wrote eloquently on the meaning of baseball and especially Opening Day. It’s a new beginning — a clean slate, any one of the many metaphors that are available.

He went on: “While we are sympathetic to your pitch to make Opening Day a national holiday, it’s a little outside our strike zone: Creating permanent federal holidays is traditionally the purview of Congress,” he wrote. “So, it’s up to the men and women on Capitol Hill to decide whether to swing at this pitch.”

Earnest is correct: While a President can use an executive order to declare a one-time holiday, it takes Congressional approval to create a permanent one. While he’s lived up to his promises to be wildly unpredictable, somehow I don’t see President Trump utilizing executive power to celebrate the national pastime — just this week, he became the first sitting president in 100 years not to throw out a ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day after citing a scheduling conflict.

So, if Opening Day is ever to take its rightful place as a national day of celebration, it will fall to Congress to make it happen. At first glance, it probably seems unlikely: After all, Congress, as a body, is not known for its speed and efficiency or for making decisions that make a majority of Americans happy. But right now, the Opening Day holiday may be just what the country needs.

Consider it for a moment: Opening Day, the first Monday of every April, as a national holiday. A day of celebration — celebration of Spring, of warm weather and the sun finally showing itself, of new hopes and old friends, of the start of a new season of a very old game. Kids — who the day is really about — could be off from school, free to watch baseball or frolic in the outdoors. Jaded veterans, who work too hard the other 51 weeks of the year, would be given a day to enjoy the spring time and, if they choose to, the ballgame. Family reunions, a barbecue or a picnic at the park, baseball on the radio, spring in the air, nonagenarians grumbling about how the game was better when they were young, which it probably was.

Just look at the history of organized baseball. Professional baseball was first played in 1869, 24 years after the sport’s initial formulation. The first federal holidays were created in 1870. That’s right: Professional baseball is older than the concept of the federal holiday itself. It’s existed for about 61 percent of our nation’s history. It’s older than the Statue of Liberty, “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our official National Anthem and the President’s desk in the Oval Office.

And baseball isn’t just old — it’s storied too. Dizzy and Daffy, Satchel, Jackie and Hank, Home Run Baker, Cookie Lavagetto, the Hondo Hurricane, Bobo Holloman, the Homer in the Gloamin’, Merkle’s Blunder, Tinker to Evers to Chance … we can list iconic moments in baseball history until the cows come home. How about the game played at Hilton Head on Christmas Day 1862, with both teams made up of members of the Union army? Or how about, 149 years later, Mike Piazza’s home run after 9/11? As Josh Earnest correctly notes, U.S. Presidents have been celebrating Opening Day since the early 20th century — and baseball fans have been celebrating Opening Day since just about the first one.

So, come on — look at baseball’s history and its inextricable connections with America in the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s as American as apple pie.

Federal holidays mark events of great importance, some practical — Inauguration Day — but mostly symbolic — such as Presidents’ Day or Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Opening Day is both. It’s practical, in that there’s a very tangible reason to give the country a day off: There’s a ballgame to watch. But it’s also deeply meaningful. One need not be a baseball fanatic to appreciate the importance or novelty in taking one day in early spring each year and getting outdoors, enjoying life, spending time with family and friends and celebrating a pastime older than “God Bless America,” 23 states and the Washington Monument.

Undoubtedly, some will say that this is hardly what Congress should concern itself with these days. To them, I say: Doesn’t it seem like the country needs some unification and common ground right now? And how better to find that than baseball?

Not that this should become an urgent legislative priority, of course — spend a few days, whip some votes and see what you can do. I will admit that I’m a complete stranger to the politics of federal holidays, but, at the very least, I’m sure the Freedom Caucus has some kind of objection.

But objections can be worked out. That’s the beauty of baseball. There’s no baseball beef in the world that can’t be solved over a hot dog and a beer, cracker jacks if you’re up to it. And it’s for that same reason that right now, Opening Day is just the holiday we need.

James Schapiro ’19 can be reached at james_schapiro@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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