Celebrating opening day and an endless spring

This year, opening day will feel slightly different.

Since first pitch is at 4:10 p.m., I had to shift the schedule a little to ensure I can watch the game.

That’s not abnormal – most years I had to queue up on my tablet while at the office. Nobody minded. If I was lucky, some years I’d be at the game, like in 2010 when Roy Halladay debuted and the two-time defending league champions bludgeoned the Nationals while thousands of us rabid Phillies fans cheered at Citizens Bank Park South. Or in 2011, when the stacked Phillies made us sweat it out before charging back in the ninth to beat the Astros on a John Mayberry Jr. single.

This year won’t be 2010 or 2011, unless there’s some magic dust fluttering over South Philadelphia. It’s happened before, as some watchful god grabbed the 1993 Phillies by the wings and kept them soaring all the way through the World Series. Hey, you never know. Maybe these kids with their bull horns, their fist bumps and their baby faces will shock the world. Ya gotta believe, right?

But for the first time since 2011, something is stirring inside me on this cool but chipper April morning. Sure I have the typical opening day butterflies, keeping me from concentrating on the work at hand while constantly checking the clock. Yet I can’t deny that there’s a newfound jittery excitement about this team. The teams of 2007-11 were everything to me; they came at the perfect moment in my life, and I rode that wave hard. But I’m relieved, even happy, to know that those teams are now in the past. I no longer have to negotiate my feelings about a roster relic. Now I can focus on the new breed of Phillies – who might emerge, who might fall, who might give us the memories that we’ll hold close for the next few decades. And that’s fueling this new layer of goosebumps. It’s a clean slate. An open road. Like spring, the day is new and promise is strong.

Saturday I ran the Phillies 5K, and I smiled the whole course as Phillies fans in every direction attempted to meet or beat their goals. I smiled as the Phillie Phanatic led us off in his ATV. I smiled as Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen heckled us on Broad Street, and as Tommy Greene met us at the home stretch.

After the race the Phillies allowed runners to walk a portion of the warning track as a “cool down.” And the moment I stepped onto the track, I bent down and grabbed a handful of the clay. I smelled it and rubbed it into my hand. I glanced around at the park, which looks so tiny when you’re on the field, and breathed in the breeze wafting off the grass. My heart rate increased again. Cool down? Hell no. I was excited. Baseball was upon us. Citizens Bank Park looked splendid. The young and hungry Phillies would be taking this field soon, and whether win or lose, they were trending upward. Now we can hope. Now we can dream. Now there’s promise.

So this year feels different. But for me, personally, even more. As I said, I had to shift my schedule a little.

See, at 3:30 p.m. I have to drive the quick 10 minutes to the tiny daycare facility down the road. Then I’ll drive the 10 minutes home, get situated and hope that, by first pitch, I can be sitting with my five-month-old daughter as the game begins. She’ll wear her Phillies pajamas. The stuffed Phanatic I bought after the 5K will be next to her.

Saturday is supposed to be her first live game.

A year ago, when the Phillies began their 2016 quest in Cincinnati, our baby was nothing more than a seedling just beginning its growth. Now we have an infant-sized Phillies hat she’ll have to grow into. Now I’m teaching her about balls and strikes, hits and outs.

Her growth is incredible. Every day there’s something new to notice. It’s as if it’s always spring. And there’s always promise. We can guide and help and hope that we’re doing right by her, but ultimately she’ll grow the way she grows, and we’ll watch in awe. We’ll cry when she cries, we’ll cheer when she’s happy.

There’s really nothing more wonderful than a clean slate, an open road, and a new day.

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