— Jeff Burton, Giants fan
It’s impossible not to smile when you talk to Dorothy Walker, the woman I met last Friday while traveling on a Muni train headed to AT&T Park. She was on her way to see the San Francisco Giants home opener, holding a Giants cooler, and wearing a Giants sweatshirt and fisherman hat over her gray hair.
Walker, 84, giggled like she was a child again when she talked about the start of the season. And that excitement, that reminder of youthfulness, is the magic of Opening Day.
“I’ve been going to Opening Day for years and years,” she said, beaming her crooked smile. “They’re just all so special.”
“Opening Day brings the spring to everyone’s step,” said Elan Lavie, a third-year UC Berkeley student. “It’s a renaissance of the game, every season.”
Todd Thalhamer, 42, brought his daughter Taryn, 6, to the stadium to see her first game that Friday. He still remembers his first time going to Opening Day.
“It was at the old Candlestick [Park]; I froze my butt off with my grandpa,” he reminisced.
By bringing his daughter to watch baseball, Thalhamer connected three generations of his family over the love of the game.
But Opening Day doesn’t only tickle the fancy of the elderly and those with small children — it brings out the little kid in everyone.
Jeff Bruton, a trade show installer at Moscone Center, has long hair, tattoos and a handlebar mustache. His voice is low and gruff like the voice of a professional wrestler. But when he started talking about baseball, he could not hold back his excited laughter.
“I became a baseball fan when I was six years old, as soon as I could pick up a bat,” he said. He looked around, grinning, at the sea of fans outside the stadium. “This is the best. Look at all these people out here! These are baseball fans.”
The game itself was filled with humorous moments. At one point between innings, the 3,500 foot HD Jumbotron showed a 70-year-old kettle corn vendor dancing to Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True.” Later in the game, the screen showed an intimidating, 250-pound man walking through the stadium carrying his baby in a pink baby carrier shaped like a panda bear.
In addition to all of the improvised amusement, the Giants also planned many festivities for the day.
The most memorable moment by far was the ceremonial first pitch. Jerry Rice threw a perfect strike to Steve Young, and then turned and ran toward second base. Young threw him the ball, which Rice pulled in with two hands, and every 49ers fan in the stadium got goose bumps.
Another piece of planned pageantry was the manner in which the Giants took the field. They entered through the center field fence to simulate the cornfield entrance from the movie “Field of Dreams.” For many, that film demonstrates the meaning of baseball; it displays the connection between the game and the family, between baseball and America.
When Berkeley student Lavie saw the entrance, he could not help but think about Terrance Mann’s famous line from the film. Mann, played by James Earl Jones, explains to Kevin Costner’s character, “This field, this game — it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
“It’s hard, because baseball has really become a part of my past, not my present,” Lavie said. “Life gets a lot more complicated when you’re older; you have so many obligations with school and work and money and relationships. But when I was playing baseball in my younger years, I was happy, I was purely happy.”
The Giants’ 5-4 win in 13 innings was one of the best games I’ve ever attended. But Opening Day is not about the game; it’s about the pure, unadulterated joy of baseball.
It’s about spring, the smell of garlic fries, and the fact that Bruton’s handlebar mustache crinkled when he broke into the same gleeful grin that I’d seen on Walker’s face.
It really must be baseball season.