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April 4, 2012

Wezen-Ball

An Opening Day Annoyance

by Larry Granillo

Is it officially Opening Day yet?

Last week, the Mariners and A's played two games in Tokyo that technically counted in the stands, but they certainly didn't feel like Opening Day. Especially when both teams came back from Japan and started playing Spring Training games again. And now, tonight, the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals will be opening their 2012 season by playing a one-game series with the freshly-minted Miami Marlins in their spanking new day-glo aquarium. A one-game series before flying up to Milwaukee for a more traditional set over the weekend. Yes, that Is a bit strange. It's not until Thursday that we finally get a full-slate of day games that actually matter in the stands (and even then we have to wait until Friday before all 30 teams get their chance). As glad as I am for baseball to finally be back, the fuzzy edge at the start of the 2012 season has been a bit confusing.

That wasn't the case on Opening Day 1959, but that still didn't keep Pittsburgh Press writer Peter Edson from getting angry that April morning. So what was it that caused a baseball scribe to get upset on the holiest of days?

Actually, things are going to the dogs, fast.

As proof thereof, your attention is called to the opening of the baseball season in Washington the other day.

Was the President of the United States there to throw out the first ball?

He was not. He was in Augusta, Ga., playing golf.

He sent his Vice President to make the first wild pitch - unthinkable.

(It wasn't his one-sentence paragraphs!) Those were still the days when an Opening Day pitch from the president was practically an official duty, so a little annoyance makes some sense. But it wasn't just the sight of Richard Nixon awkwardly throwing a ball 30 feet that got under Edson's skin.

And do you know what else happened on opening day? The National Aeronautics and Space Agency - NASA, for short - called a press conference right at "play ball" time.

The nerve of them.

All they wanted to do was introduce the seven young men who have been selected for training to make the first manned flights into space - two years hence.

The nerve of them! Introducing these "astronauts" to the world on Opening Day of all days! Who are they, anyway? Grissom? Shepard? Glenn?!

It's a peek into a different world, when space flight was really still science fiction. How could Edson know who these men would become? NASA was still so young that he even had to explain the acronym to his readers! Still, Edson's amusement is an interesting read 53 years later:

What this would seem to indicate is that ball players are no longer the glamor boys - the heroes that they used to be.

This is serious and sad. The nine on the diamond and outfield have been replaced by the seven of the capsule and outer space.

What did these seven have that baseball players haven't got?

The spacemen weren't big and brawny like ball players. They weren't handsome like movie stars, either.

Of course, two years later Alan Shepard would be the first American in space and John Glenn would be the first to orbit the Earth. They would also be two of the most famous men in the country, easily on par with Mickey Mantle and any other baseball stars of the era. Gus Grissom was the second American in space and would die eight years later in the Apollo 1 fire. Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton and the rest of the "Mercury seven" would also play key roles in the ten-year build-up to the moon.

But on that April afternoon, Peter Edson and many other baseball fans cared about nothing but was happening on the ballfield. Considering how long and confusing spring training has been this year, I can certainly understand that.

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