Monday, April 6, 2009

Traditions, Newer and Older: Opening Day Edition

Rejoice, for the Lord’s grace is indeed great on this day.

What has me so pleased with the date on the calendar? Why, only the fact that today is one of, if not the sole possessor of the title of, my favorite days of the year: it’s Opening Day! That’s right, the first day of the Major League Baseball season is finally come, and the anticipation of the upcoming six months of drama, determination, and brand new sets of data, combined with the sense of purity that comes from a clean slate for all thirty teams, is enough to make any fan of the game giddy about a new year’s first pitches.

While I sit in a pool of my own unbridled enthusiasm, some folks around the country are a bit uncomfortable with the opening week of the season: many Catholics -who according to my last post are as thoroughly American as, well, baseball- are facing a conflict of religious observance versus the opportunity to observe their home teams for the first time this year, as some teams are holding their home openers in the most solemn time period of Good Friday; namely, the Detroit Tigers have caught ire from the local Catholic community over perceived insensitivity to Catholic worshipping needs. I responded to a post on the Christian spirituality website,, examining the reactions of religious leaders to the scheduling of Opening Day on Good Friday.

At the same time, baseball is being represented in a whole new way in an upcoming film called Sugar, from the same people responsible for one of my favorite movies of the past five years, Half Nelson. Today’s post features responses to bloggers covering social aspects of the very grand game of baseball.

"For Catholic Ball Fans, a Good Friday Choice."

The conflict in decisions that has arisen at the start of the baseball season for Catholics, specifically in Detroit, has received quite a bit of attention this spring, even appearing as a headline on for a number of days in late March; this post sums up the issue well, especially from the religious leaders’ viewpoints. The quotes from the leaders all seem to agree on the strict importance of experiencing Good Friday as a day that should be a solemn observance of the suffering of Jesus Christ, and according to the quotes this leaves a clear “yes-or-no” decision for Catholic baseball fans who face the possibility of attending Opening Day festivities at their favorite team’s ballpark.

Having had the opportunity to be at the stadium for my team’s opening home game in past years, I feel I have an appreciation for the feelings that arise en masse on these days of celebratory festivity. There is a marked note of excitement and rewarded anticipation that is unlike any other game on the regular season schedule, not to mention the thrill of being able to go home and tell friends and family that you were among the first however many thousand people who were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of their team’s first appearance of the year in their home city. The main conflict that appears here between the opportunity of attending a baseball game in these unique circumstances and paying one’s faithful religious dues is that Good Friday’s solemn tone should not be mixed with a grand celebration, with certain Catholic leaders calling this possible mix “insulting.” While that may be true in consideration of Good Friday as one of the two or three most important dates on a practicing Catholic’s calendar, I wonder if there is any possibility for compromise between baseball and church in this example: Opening Days do create an environment of social cohesion around a concept that a sizable amount of people consider nontrivial, and the value in this for a city of people may be understated by many, which church leaders should consider in the light of their own viewpoints. However, this may be truly an instance in which people will need to decide how to show their faith on a person-to-person basis, but the church may have a point: Good Friday comes once a year, while there are eighty more home games after Opening Day.


To hear that the minds behind Half Nelson, a personal favorite, have collaborated again and put their efforts into telling a story framed by baseball should be exciting for any fans of these writers' previous work and baseball. Though I have not seen their new movie Sugar, the reviews featured on this page and around the internet, like this film's page on Rotten Tomatoes, hint that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have made a character study every bit as interesting and deep as in their previous film. One review on this page that I think rings true is Henry Stewart's for Reverse Shot, who points out the film's portrayal of baseball as "a religion that unifies Dominican and American cultures through its popularity and prevalence in each"; from what I understand, to many Dominicans baseball plays as large a role in daily life as one's faith may play, and I will be interested to see the "spiritual representation," if you will, of the game of baseball in the main character in Sugar.
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