On Monday morning, I woke up and waited for baseball. When the baseball came, I gorged. There were first pitches and final pitches, wins and losses, dingers, and more dingers. When fans tried to start the wave in the last game of the season, it caused mild indigestion, but I put my head down and gorged some more. The best part of Opening Day isn’t just all the baseball; it’s the expectation that you’re supposed to watch it.
What did we see? An incomplete list:
- Manny Machado making Orioles fans say, “I think he might be the best defensive third baseman in team history” without irony.
- Noah Syndergaard throwing 100-mph two-seamers and 93-mph sliders (he won).
- Bryce Harper hitting yet another Opening Day home run. It was the fifth of his career. (He’s still just 24.)
- Carlos Correa mashing a 440-foot homer that sailed out of Minute Maid Park
- Clayton Kershaw yawning and throwing seven innings of two-hit ball
If you’re going to gorge, do it on a day like that. That’s the point of Opening Day, I suppose. It’s all about the individual reminders of how neat-o the sport is, not necessarily about which teams are winning and losing.
Then a week will pass, a month, two months. Our attention will shift. There will a random MVP candidate — “By the way, Yulieski Gurriel is a .350 hitter with power now.” There will be disappointments, surprising rookies, and surprising veterans. A random team will contend, at least for a month, and we’ll spend time arguing about them. We’ll follow the progress of players like Masahiro Tanaka too closely, as if a month was ever enough time to evaluate a baseball player.
We’ll get wrapped up in the dizziness of the 162 game season. The stories of 2017 will come quickly, and they’ll consume us.
Before we go down that particular water slide, though, I would like to share the most amazing player I watched on Opening Day. Specifically, the most amazing single moment from the most amazing player. It made me laugh out loud and rewind the DVR five times.
The homer came from Mike Trout in a forgettable Angels loss, and that’s what makes it too easy to overlook, especially on Opening Day.
He’ll hit about 30 or 40 more of those this year. Some of them will be hit harder. Some of them will be hit farther. Some of them will come in bigger spots. Heck, the Angels might even win a couple of those games.
But allow me to explain what made me giggle and roll around on the floor as if the dentist forgot to shut off the tank. When you watch the long home run from Bryce Harper, it makes sense.
That is not where you should throw a fastball to Bryce Harper. I’m not going to suggest that David Phelps should be thrown in jail for throwing a fastball that bad, but he at least deserves to be sued. It was not a good pitch.
The Carlos Correa home run was more ridiculous because it was clearly off the plate.
It was inside, Correa was expecting it, and he pulled it a few hundred feet. It’s still impressive enough to ruin my thesis, but there’s some logic to it. The ball did what you would expect it to do if the swing was right. If that pitch was going to turn into a home run, it was going to be pulled in the same way that Correa actually did it.
Trout’s home run wasn’t something we’re used to, though. It’s not something we should get used to.
It’s not that it was a perfect pitch. It had movement toward the plate, and it didn’t get enough of the edge.
It’s a pitch that could get punished with an opposite-field extra-base hit with the right approach. A strong enough hitter could certainly get it over the center-field wall.
Trout pulled it. Not only did he pull it and keep it fair, he hit it over 110 mph, which is roughly as hard as baseballs can be hit, give or take a few miles. He took this ball and hooked it, and he did it with such a perfect swing, with such strength and precision, that it left the park in less than four seconds, even though he was reaching ever so slightly.
The Angels lost. Mike Trout will hit more home runs. This one will be mostly forgotten after a month, if not a week.
But it was an extraordinary home run, something that could go on Trout’s cover letter if he needed to send his résumé out and look for a job. This is a baseball player who is as talented as baseball players can be made, and he used a nearly perfect swing. It came on a pitch that probably should have been approached with a much different swing, so it’s almost as if Trout was showing off.
Except he wasn’t, of course. Trout might even admit he made a mistake with that swing, expecting more movement back over the plate. Maybe he started a millisecond too early. He still adjusted and hit the most impressive home run of the early season.
There will be a flavor of the week. There will be a flavor of the month. New stars will rise, and longer home runs will be hit. For me, though, Opening Day was perfect because the best player of a generation reminded us why he’s the best player of a generation. He did it in a way that will be easily forgotten, in a game that will be easily forgotten, on a team that will be easily forgotten, in sport that makes it easy to forget nearly everything that’s hidden in a pile of 162 games.
So I want to leave this here in my 2017 MLB scrapbook. Mike Trout hit an unremarkable home run, and it was the most remarkable part of Opening Day. It was a low liner that would have been a weak grounder off almost anyone else’s bat, and I can’t stop watching it.
Welcome back, baseball. I can’t believe we have 161 more games of this.