Time Begins Again on Opening Day

There’s something spiritual about Opening Day in baseball. Spring invites a sense of new beginnings. The standings for the home … Continued

There’s something spiritual about Opening Day in baseball. Spring invites a sense of new beginnings. The standings for the home team show no losses. Both committed fans and those with only passing interest in baseball tune in. Everyone gets a fresh start on Opening Day. “When you win the first one,” as Early Wynn noted, “you can’t lose ‘em all.”

When I think of Opening Day, I can’t help but think of my 92-year-old Dad. Born in Maryland in 1915, he grew up in Westminster, Owings Mills, and Baltimore, a child of the land and a child of a deep faith. Right alongside his religion and his family came his love of baseball.

Because his parents moved to New York before the Crash, he became a Yankees fan for a few brief years. The legacy of living in New York was his love of the Murderer’s Row lineup of the ’27 Yankees, which he could recite complete with batting stances, averages, and home runs for each man. “Combs, Koenig, Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel, Lazzeri…” he would announce, “one hell of a lineup!”

But his deep love was Baltimore, Ruth’s hometown and later Orioles country. And though I was born in Boston and so a Red Sox fan for life, I cherished the trip to Memorial Stadium for Opening Day with my Dad, Sargent Shriver. He would move through the park, greeting ushers, stopping strangers to discuss the day’s pitchers, seeking out politicos for a vigorous handshake. I felt so much a part of him there, and while we were surrounded by 40,000 friends, somehow he was all the more mine.

The baseball of his time was at the center of the nation’s story. It was the sport that echoed of the agricultural past, that launched the idea of the hero in Ruth, that hemorrhaged through Jackie Robinson’s first season, that was disrupted but unbowed by the wars in Europe, the Pacific, and Korea. Baseball’s symmetry was symbolic of the country’s: the purpose was clear, the roles defined, the competition rough.

Like many men of his time, my Dad was not content with the country he was given but neither did he doubt its greatness. He sought to change what he could with an undying optimism and relentless effort. Among his great gifts as a father was to bring his life’s mission alive in moments that combined work, play, and family.

On a Saturday afternoon at home, we would play catch and he would hit me fly balls. It was our ritual: the gloves, the long smooth tosses, the lazy looping hits that settled in my glove. It was life made simple: a man and his boy playing ball.

But that same day would inevitably include friends from work. In my childhood, he was immersed in the Peace Corps and later in Head Start, Community Action, Legal Services for the Poor. His faith in social justice, in living the Sermon on the Mount, in trying his best to uproot fear or intolerance or the grinding pain of poverty animated his life.

His colleagues were always around from breakfast on weekdays through planning sessions on weekends. We kids were there too, and somehow he made of us all a whole: work, social change, faith, family, mission. He believed we could do it all together and make the world new. He felt it was his role, his faith’s calling, his country’s mission: he believed in the possible.

Today’s world feels ages removed from his. On opening day in Washington, our President is unpopular, our role in war is deeply divisive, our fear of the future palpable. We feel like a nation divided.

But Opening Day is a reminder: we can live a fresh start. We can teach our own sons and daughters to believe in their country and in making it better. We can search for our own generation’s combination of hope and purpose.

Today at 92, my Dad didn’t make the trip to the park on Opening Day. The politicians don’t call as much anymore. His step is more guarded now. His recall of the ’27 Yankees is gone. He’s faced his own murderers’ row these last few years: Alzheimer’s, cancer, my mother’s failing health. Now the trip to the park is a little too demanding. Maybe we’ll make it once or twice this year, maybe not. Health is fleeting.

But those long tosses in the backyard, those hours of fly balls, that sense of searching for the action, the game, the umpire’s voice saying “play ball”—those are the gifts I associate with him that are renewed this year on Opening Day.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to understand them. And you don’t have to go to the park to create your own opening day.

Timothy Shriver
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  • Tom3

    Attending a baseball game is particularly satisfying when you get to BOO that rat bastard Chimpy Bush.That criminal belongs in prison, not throwing the first pitch.

  • Paganplace

    Hrm.”There’s something spiritual about Opening Day in baseball. Spring invites a sense of new beginnings”You know, …Blessed be, sir, but next time you get the idea in your head you’re allowed to call a Pagan flaky? …Thing of who casts the first pitch. :)

  • Arminius

    Paganplace,Where you coming from with this ‘flaky’ thing, I don’t understand. Baseball IS spiritual! It makes spring even more important, at least to me.Arminius

  • Arminius

    Mr Shriver,Great essay, and I agree. I am one of those people who are only truly alive from March thru October.Here’s what one of baseball’s greatest said about the game:Arminius

  • Anonymous

    Attending a baseball game is like drinking from the fountain of youth. The environment brings back memories of past dreams and expected glory. All the same, a day at the ball park rejuvenates the soul.

  • Arminius

    Gee whiz, JJ,

  • TC

    I love this quote:”It is well to be prepared for life as it is, but it is better to be prepared to make life better than it is.” Sargent Shriver

  • TC

    Tim, I have a baseball trivia question for you. What was “Dummy” Hoy famous for?Of course, the Yankees can’t compare to the Cardinals – Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, and now Albert Pujols. I would love to develop into the personality of your father. He has given the people who know him a full and fulfilled life. What a gift from God. Next time I go to the ballpark (to see the Cards, of course)I am going to try and share my excitment with others on a personal note – like you and your father do. God bless you and your family.

  • Vessier

    Many people left baseball legacies that have touched many lives, no doubt. There is only one man, though, who left us with the legacy of The Peace Corp and the Fight on Poverty. Your father has touched untold lives in a fundamental and far-reaching manner. What a gift to the world his life has been. His legacy inspires many of us today, to strive on, toward the true potential of humanity…our humanity.

  • rose shriver

    WOW! I’m a little late in reading this piece but just want to say that your father is a hero and you are the writer that has and will always bring his story- and your own- to life on the page.

  • Tom

    Having assisted Sargent Shriver on the staffs of both the Peace Corps and the “War on Poverty,” I am still inspired by any story about him (and his wonderful family). He remains the greatest person I have known. As a long-time baseball fan, and once-upon-a-time catcher, as he was, I very much enjoyed this particular story, Thank you, Timothy.