Last week the Master’s golf tournament and baseball’s first pitch coincided, due in some small part to the fact that major league baseball is now marketing “opening week” instead of the more traditional opening day. Technically the season kicked off on Tuesday in Japan. On Wednesday, ESPN showcased the incredible (and bizarre) Marlins Park. But it was on Thursday that most of the country was focused on the true opening day, along with the ceremonial drives that kicked off the greatest golf tournament of them all, The Masters.
We happened to be in New York for opening day. The Mets hosted the Braves, while the Yankees travelled to Tampa for a game against the Rays. In unexpected form, the recently hapless Mets defeated the Braves on their way to a series sweep. The Yanks were busy blowing a ninth inning lead on their way to being swept by Tampa. The New York press, in typical nature, was writing as if the season were over. Euphoria concerning one team and shear depression concerning the other. The true baseball fan knows all so well that pennants are not won in April.
We enjoyed a beautiful Easter Sunday, starting with sunrise service in Central Park. We then took in the obligatory Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue. The street was packed with folks of all ages, showing off their Easter best. The parade flowed past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, seen by many as America’s home to Christendom. It is indeed a sight to behold. We then hopped on the No.7 train, affectionately known as the international express. The No.7 takes you through the borough of Queens on the way to Citi Field. One hundred-nine languages are spoken in Queens; most of them could be heard on that train. As we stood in line to purchase tickets, a young man approached and offered to give me a pair. He explained that a buddy had come up with better seats and he just wanted “to make someone’s day.” Upon reaching the ticket window, the clerk cheerfully found me a seat near my two freebies. At the ballpark and throughout the city, we were treated with kindness. A new attitude is prominent in New York, to be sure.
After the game, we headed back to our rented apartment to watch the last nine holes of the Masters. Had we been in Chester, we would have been locked into the tournament. We would have smiled watching Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player opening the tournament with their ceremonial first drives. We would have been thrilled on Thursday and Friday by the brilliant play of Freddy Couples. On the weekend we would have enjoyed a very competitive leader board. On late Sunday afternoon we were joined by Bubba Watson’s army. Bubba is different. Never having had a lesson, he taught himself to play by hitting a wiffle ball. He took great joy in making the ball do crazy things. Bubba hits it a mile, but his ball flight takes on a different path than anyone else’s on tour. In the end, he won in sudden death with a typical Bubba shot. After a miserable drive deep into the woods, Watson was faced just a little opening. “When I got to the ball, I visualized the shot right away. I had to take it under one limb and then hook the gap wedge about 40 yards.” He pulled it off and won the green jacket by two putting from about 10 feet. Chesterfield native, Denny Hamlin is one of Watson’s closest friends and takes full credit for teaching Watson the shot.
At tournament’s end, Watson was very emotional in clinging to his mom. “My dreams never got this far,” he choked.
My opening week ended with a trip up I-95 with my baseball buddy Peg Adler. We took in the Nationals opening game, a thrilling 3-2 victory for the home team. It was a gorgeous opening day, marked by a full house, and all the pomp and circumstance of the occasion. It was a bit disappointing that our President does not have a sense of history when it comes to throwing out the first pitch, but ultimately it is his loss. We ended our day by driving past the sold-out Diamond, while listening to the Flying Squirrels on the radio. A terrific end to a fabulous day, as two Nats fans dream of the pennant that hopefully waits in October.