Edson: The Magic of Opening Day

When I was growing up, I only had a hard time sleeping twice a year: Christmas Eve and the night before Opening Day.

In fact, by the time I got to third grade and Opening Day of the baseball season was telecast up north, I was always “sick” when the Detroit Tigers opened the season.

Since my folks were both teachers, they didn’t hide the fact that my “sickness” had nothing to do with my physical health. But to miss Opening Day would have had a serious effect on my mental health.

It was no secret to my teachers that I would miss that day of school. In fact, my mom once wrote an excuse note for me to one of my teachers – and her friend – the following: “Please excuse Nicky from school yesterday as he was not feeling well until after 1 o’clock. After the Tigers win on Opening Day, he felt much better.”

One of my favorite baseball writers, Thomas Boswell, once wrote a book called “Why Time Begins On Opening Day.” It’s a classic and a theme I very much believe in.

I covered my first Opening Day as a professional writer in 1977. Outside of going to be first Tigers game in 1961, it was the most excited I had ever been walking into Tiger Stadium.

That 1977 game was against the Kansas City Royals. The Royals won the game 7-4 behind a young George Brett. But what I remember most about that day was standing behind the batting cage during pre-game warmups. Then I watched general manager Jim Campbell doing his rounds of interviews and Detroit television personalities like Al Ackerman and Sonny Eliot parading around.

We went upstairs in the press box to watch the game and get anything we wanted to eat – hot dogs, ice cream and sandwiches. I was in heaven.

The 1978 season opener was even better. Mark “The Bird” Fidrych pitched a complete game 6-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

Then in 1979 during Opening Day, we all gathered around the new Tigers manager Les Moss to get his take on the upcoming season. He was, to be polite, unpolished and unprofessional. The Tigers had rewarded their longtime “company man” with the job.

Luckily, general manager Jim Campbell realized his mistake early in the season and replaced Moss with former Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson. Sparky was just the opposite of Moss and led the Tigers to the World Series title five years later.

Even though I haven’t covered an Opening Day in 20 years, I still look forward to it as a fan. We celebrate the day by having hot dogs for lunch with popcorn during the game.

This Opening Day is going to be extra special because I know there might not be much to celebrate during the season.

Still, my first Opening Day was spent in front of the television watching the Tigers take on the Washington Senators.

This week’s Opening Day will be against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I can’t wait because I know Thomas Boswell had it right: Time really does begin on Opening Day.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.