I look forward to Opening Day every year. This year was no exception; I'm participating in as many fantasy leagues as I normally do, I half-heartedly filled out a couple March Madness brackets to pass the time, and I paid scant attention to much else (which led to me nearly forgetting I had to have a law school deposit in on April 2nd).
There was one difference this year though - for the first time in five years, I was single on Opening Day. It's a bit strange to think about it that way, but considering how much Jen and I both loved baseball, I couldn't help but see it in that light.
Baseball was one of the first things we connected on. I'm a Mets fan; she's a Braves fan. So we immediately began a good-natured rivalry, and of course she never failed to hold all those division titles over my head. It's a strange coincidence that our relationship ended the same year the Braves' streak did. It's a strange coincidence in my melancholy mind at least; I know there's no connection, but I like to romanticize.
Everyone romanticizes the sport of baseball and parallels the sport to their lives. While I don't know that I want to draw parallels, I do know that baseball was a pretty important part of my relationship, and as such, it's impossible not to reflect in the young days of this new season of what was.
I liked to make predictions to her about the game. I predicted way back in 2002 that the AL Central would be the strongest division in baseball within 3 years. I'm proud of that one.
One night in August, 2003, we were watching a Red Sox game on NESN, and we had to run out to print something at the library. Jason Varitek was up to bat, and on a hunch, I said "wait, I need to see Varitek go deep."
On the next pitch, Varitek blasted one over the Green Monster, and we walked over to the library, marveling over my prescience. She actually bragged about it to some camp counselors when she was doing her senior research, but apparently she got her names crossed up and called him Varekai (like the Cirque Du Soleil show) and confused them.
Since TBS broadcasts a lot of Braves game, we got to watch a lot of them.
We were watching on TV one Spring afternoon when one of her former Braves, Kevin Millwood, pitched a no-hitter for the Giants against the Phillies.
We watched early one season when Chipper Jones snagged his foot trying to field a bunt and has been bit by the injury bug since.
We watch Ben Sheets K 18 Braves, and Randy Johnson throw a perfect game the next day.
More recently, we were supposed to go out with her friend, another Braves fan, but we had to keep putting off dinner because the Braves were playing an extra innings playoff game against the Astros.
We groaned when Adam LaRoche was sent around third to get nailed at the plate. We groaned when Bobby Cox had Marcus Giles bunt (he popped it up, I believe). We were astonished when light hitting Chris Burke finally ended the game in the bottom of the 18th inning, sending us to our long delayed meal.
There are other playoff memories too - Jose Cruz dropping an easy fly ball to help doom the Giants . . . Josh Beckett throwing a gem against the Yankees . . . the Red Sox coming back from 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS (which was a great experience in NH - I don't think anything got done on campus that week and a half - incidentally, that series was the subject my worst prediction ever - "the Red Sox need to win one of the first two, or they won't win the series").
There were many days when we'd watch an early afternoon game, and then head out for coffee and lunch afterwards. There were plenty of night games for which we got lazy and ordered EBAs and sat around commenting on the goings on around the league and in the game.
The first time I went down to Atlanta, I think it was Spring 2002, for the Music Midtown concert instead of studying for a chemistry midterm, I slept on a pull-out sofa under a Braves blanket, and prompt got hit by horrible allergies due to the two dogs and cat residing in her house.
I remember walking around her grandfather's medical office, which is decorated with framed newspaper pages of Braves headlines.
For her birthday in 2005, I got her a Braves jersey - of her favorite new player, a hot-shot right fielder who had come up from the minors and tore up the league, both with his torrid hitting and his rifle outfield arm.
During out Spring Training trip to Disney World (we saw three Braves games - against the Nationals, the Phillies and the Indians), she was fortunate to get the jersey signed. I think having Jeff Francoeur sign her jersey was the highlight of her trip.
During our relationship, the Braves went through several right fielders - Gary Sheffield, JD Drew, and finally her favorite, Jeff Francoeur.
We probably went to 8-10 Nationals games over the course of our year and a half here in DC.
We got to see a Braves/Nats game where one of my favorite young MLBers, Ryan Zimmerman, hit a ball off John Smoltz that was about as hard hit a ball as I've ever seen. It was a line drive that went all the way to the right centerfield wall, but it was damn impressive. Francoeur's Franks were obviously present.
This season's very different, obviously. There won't be any games to watch or attend together, or any predictions to impart, or fantasy performances to brag about (yes, I did). But the game goes on, and so will I. I'll be at RFK on April 16th, and hopefully the Nationals will have won another game by then. I'll score the game, and cheer for Zimmerman, and perhaps enjoy the April nighttime air.
Play ball, Go Mets, and don't forget to tip your beerman.