It's Opening Day in Toronto. Or, as it's been rechristened by tradition-trouncing bean-counters in cahoots with television executives who probably think a full count is a European nobleman after a really big meal: Opening Day, er, night.
All of which is to say that as of around 7 p.m., when 125-million-dollars-worth of terrific talent takes the field for the home side at the Rogers Centre, and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey lets fly (or lets float) that first pitch -- we will be finally able to utter those three beautiful words: Baseball Is Back.
For Blue Jays fans, it's been a long off-season. Longer than most. Because not only were the faithful pining for the return of the game they so love, they were also pumped-up to the point of near-bursting with anticipation, wildly anxious to see the new-look squad that had been creatively cobbled together in the winter by the team's inventive architect, GM Alex Anthopoulos. Fans, say hello to the likes of the aforementioned Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio and manager John Gibbons, returning for a second tour of duty.
All in all, a contingent that tops the AL East in many preseason polls. That's right, tops. Ahead of the rebuilding BoSox, the over-the-hill Yankees, the fluky Orioles and even the once-devilish Rays of Tampa.
How high are anticipation levels? Opening Day sold out in about three minutes. You'd have thought the Beatles had been resurrected and reunited. Hey, Blue Jays, they love you, ya, ya, ya. Suddenly it's 1993 all over again and the ballpark is a hip and happening place to be.
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This great, perpetually sold out, temple to Baseball is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year. Fenway has a bizarrely shaped outfield, rowdy fans and few of the modern amenities that have ballgames more and more family friendly over the last two decades. This is exactly the point. Fenway is a baseball stadium for people who love baseball. The stadium sits within walking distance of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and a throw away from Newbury Street, the high-end shopping avenue that leads to the Common. This is Boston's beating heart. Home Opener: April 13
The newest monument to baseball is a 37,000 seat stadium outside of Miami where the relocated Marlins will play in air conditioned comfort a short ride away from Florida's center of cool. Yes, the new uniforms are ridiculous looking, but the park isn't and the owners are gambling that the fans here are ready to get behind this team, which has a lot of Latin flavor. Home Opener: April 4 (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The Mets are a very bad baseball team. Terrible really. But there is a silver lining to all the financial and lineup problems: Going to a game is very cheap and, most of the time, there is at least one professionally looking ballclub in the house. Citi Field is the anti-Yankees Stadium. It isn't particularly glamorous, but it is accessible and doable for people who want to go to a last minute game. Tell you friends you saw a game in New York. They'll probably just assume you went to the Bronx anyway. Home Opener: April 5
PNC Park seems like a metaphor for what Pittsburgh could be. The ballpark is only a decade old, but seems like a throwback to a more traditional era, embracing a sort of Americana meets the 21st century aesthetic. The views are beautiful and the park sits close to a beautiful park and the always alluring National Aviary. No, the Pirates aren't a great team, but Pittsburgh is a great sports town and the fans are terrific. Home Opener: April 5
Camden Yards is everything a stadium should be. It is huge, but intimate, modern but traditional. This year Earl Weaver will be tossing out the first pitch for the Orioles, a tribute to both his career with the club and the club's respect for baseball history. The fact that the National Aquarium and the Charm City's waterfront is nearby doesn't hurt. Home Opener: April 4
Like Fenway, Wrigley Field is more than just a ballpark. This is a critical piece of Chicago history and a major part of the city's landscape. After the game, walk towards the lake to enjoy open parks and stunning views. Wearing a Cubbies hat and reciting the poem "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" will win you a lot of friends. Don't try to catch foul balls that fielders might be able to reach. Seriously. Home Opener: April 5
The two biggest reason to head to Citizens Bank Park: The Phillies are great and their fans are crazy. Travelers may want to dress in red and white if they want to enter this temple to mass psychosis, but those who do will find a perfectly manicured field and sweeping views of the City of Brotherly Love. The one downside. There isn't much nearby, just some really epic parking lots. Home Opener: April 5
The Evil Empire's new stadium is proof that America's love affair with baseball is as passionate as ever. The massive stadium offers great views from almost every seat and affords true fans the priceless opportunity to join the home crowd in heckling A-Rod for being a jerk. New York is one of the most popular destinations in the world and seeing a game is an absolute must. Go to Citi Field if you're on a budget. If you aren't, go to Yankee Stadium. Home Opener: April 13 <em>Correction: A previous version of this slide showed the old Yankee stadium. We regret the error</em>.
Led by their eccentric pitching staff, the Giants are one of the most exciting teams in baseball and ames at AT&T are almost uniformly engaging. That said, the view of the bay and the sunshine might not make up for the crowd's consistently blase attitude. Be prepared to have to explain the Infield Fly Rule to a computer programmer. There is a Build-A-Bear Workshop in the outfield. Seriously. Home Opener: April 6
The opening game of the 2012 season was played by the Seattle Mariner and Oakland Athletics in Tokyo, making the Tokyo Dome the least convenient place to see a MLB game. Just because the opening series is over, doesn't mean the Dome is empty. Catch a Yomiuri Giants game here or just a Superhero show, which is apparently a thing. Because the stadium is also the home of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, it is the perfect place for foreigners to take in a few innings and a bit of history. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
(Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mikefrombisbee"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mikefrombisbee">mikefrombisbee</a>:<br />Billy Martin and Clint Courtney fought here in 1947. The NY Giants and the White Sox played there in 1913 on their World Tour. Three of the Black Sox and others banned from baseball played here in an outlaw league in the 1920s. Warren Ballpark in historic Bisbee, AZ dates back to 1909. Although it's no longer a minor league park, it remains in use year-round for high school football and baseball, semi-pro summer baseball, vintage base ball and other community events.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Bompa"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://i.huffpost.com/profiles/301835-tiny.png?20101208175707" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Bompa">Bompa</a>:<br />Just another day at the yard.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/jim4small"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/526151330/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/jim4small">jim4small</a>:<br />Fenway Home Opener 2011
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/vonchio"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/3014093.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/vonchio">vonchio</a>:<br />Korea Probaseball Team(Doosan BEARS) Home field in Seoul, Korea
And, naturally, with such anticipation comes equally high expectations. Alas, this is Toronto we're talking about, where fans tend to fall into two categories: unrealistically optimistic ("Forget the World Series, man -- can you say Ming? -- yeah, this team's an instant, automatic dynasty!"), and hopelessly pessimistic ("This team will suffer a few key injuries and become the under-performing laughing stock of the American League East Division, if not all of Major League Baseball.")
Truth be told, it's high time to bust out the platitudes about having to actually play all 162 games before anything is decided, and about how no team wins anything on paper. And tonight is just Game One. Granted, given the 100-plus-year tradition of Opening Days in baseball, it's a bit more than just a game. It's a game that will become, win or lose, part of team lore -- and, face it, you can't automatically say that about, say, the second game of the season, or the seventh, or the 53rd, or...
Opening Day makes old-timers turn misty. They remember the Blue Jays inaugural home opener at Exhibition Stadium in the snow like it was yesterday, or, at least, 13,500 yesterdays ago (37 years ago -- April 7, 1977 -- for those not up for the advanced calculations). They remind how the fans chanted not for stellar pitching, or the long ball, or even the home team, so much as for... beer. Exhibition Stadium, you'll recall, was a dry venue at the time; no matter, the suds would have just froze anyway.
Blustery broadcasters will tell you that Opening Day "sets the tone for the season." But that's just gasbags adding gravitas where it doesn't belong. Are they seriously suggesting that if you blow Opening Day, the "tone" for the next 161 games is in jeopardy? That said, blow Opening Month and all that anticipation you built-up over the winter starts to deflate.
Because there is a point where Blue Jay fans -- the unrealistically optimistic and the hopelessly pessimistic -- converge. And that's at the point of fickleness. Get off to a bad start, get spat upon by Lady Luck, get behind in the standings, and emergency wards across The Big Smoke will be filled with orthopedic cases. Fans hurt and hobbled. Sprained ankles. Twisted knees. Busted legs. The sort of injuries incurred when... leaping off a bandwagon.
Opening Day, er, night. OK, Blue Jays, let's (finally) play ball.
Follow Andy Juniper on Twitter: www.twitter.com/theSportJesters