Friday, September 1, 2023

Andy Young: Opening Day

By Andy Young

I’ve looked forward to Opening Day ever since I was old enough to realize it existed. The only days I anticipated more were Christmas and Thanksgiving, and by the time I began my three-decade adolescence, my devotion to baseball was total.

That’s why I couldn’t wait for the day the season began each year in early April. I even attended a season-opening game at New York’s beautiful Shea Stadium one year. Certain so-called “experts” were forecasting a grim season for my favorite team, so imagine my joy when they vanquished the visiting Montreal Expos, 3-1. Ace pitcher Jerry Koosman hurled a complete game, and I knew right then Joe Torre’s Mets were going to shock the world. I was even more convinced of it after they won their next two games.

Historical note: the New Yorkers lost 96 of their final 159 contests that year, finishing last and confirming those “experts” did indeed know more than I did. Adding insult to injury, that opening day win represented one-third of Koosman’s victories that year; he lost 15.

In my youth baseball’s season-opening contest reliably took place in Cincinnati sometime during April’s second week. But these days the big-league season opens in late March, often under a dome and occasionally in a foreign country.

Today I’m no longer youthful, nor an avid baseball fan. I’m a veteran high school English teacher who has learned that things change with the passage of time. (Exhibit A: New York’s beautiful Shea Stadium was demolished 14 years ago.)

Currently I’m occupied with trying to help high schoolers unlock their full potential. The more diligently they work on their literacy skills, the more clearly that they’ll see that they’re capable of doing far more for society than striking out the side on nine pitches or clouting a tape measure home run. Few of my students will ever earn the money a major league professional athlete in their prime does, but if my colleagues, my students’ parents, and I do our jobs right, the young folks in my class will realize that in the long run, being a multi-millionaire before turning 30 years old is far more likely to become a curse than a blessing.

However, despite my waning interest in professional baseball my enthusiasm for Opening Day remains. The difference: I’ve realized the one that truly matters occurs in late August.

Teachers understand that no day of the school year is more important than the initial one. It’s our one and only chance to make a positive first impression on our new students. Equally importantly it’s their only chance to get an initial read on the person(s) who’ll be guiding their academic growth for the next 10 months or so.

Like the baseball season, a school year is a marathon, not a sprint. Any decent algebra student can deduce that 180 six-and-a-half-hour school days add up to a lot more time than 162 Major League Baseball contests do, and that was true even before several rule changes designed to speed up games were enacted this year.

Major League Baseball players earning the sport’s lowest allowable annual salary will bring home at least 10 times the money the average educator will get paid this year.

But what a teacher gives (and receives in exchange for their efforts) is arguably worth better than 10 times what even the most skilled professional athlete will produce in his or her most productive season.

It’s just as true now as it was in my childhood: for me, nothing is as exciting as Opening Day.

Not even a Jerry Koosman complete-game victory. <

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