Football more popular; Baseball has special lore
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By Dave Williams  March 14, 2014 12:00 am

All you have to do is look at the television ratings to know football is vastly more popular than baseball on the American sporting landscape. The Super Bowl and college football’s championship games always swamp the ratings of the World Series or College World Series.

I’ll admit, I’m one who prefers football to baseball just about any day. There are, however, certain traditions in baseball that football cannot match. And one is Opening Day, which on every level holds more prestige than football. 

Opening Day in baseball is heralded as a rite of spring. For football, it’s simply the season opener or the first game of the season. Opening Day in baseball has presidents throwing out the first pitch on the professional level. In Little League or, in Rohnert Park’s case on Saturday, Cal Ripken League there are parades of players and teams, all-day celebrations in the park and finally baseball.

Also, records in baseball have a special lore football records lack. Most sports fan can tell you right off the bat Barry Bonds owns the records for most home runs and most home runs in a single season, or that Pete Rose is the all-time hits leader. How quickly can you name pro football’s all-time leading rusher or yardage leader in passing?

The NFL has tried to jazz up its opening night of football with concerts, street fairs and the like, but it feels forced and contrived. 

Each time a new youth baseball season opens, whether it’s in Rohnert Park or Cotati, I always recall my days playing as a kid.

At that time in your life, there were certain days (not holidays) you eagerly anticipated. One was the first day of Little League Baseball signups. For some reason, you feared that if you missed the first day of signups, you either would not get on a team or the team you’d play for would not be good.

So, you bugged your parents all week long, reminding them to make sure they were available to take you to sign up. I know my parents got sick of all the reminder notes stuck on the refrigerator. Mom actually started hiding the magnets.

The second anxious day was when your new coach called to tell you what team you were on and when and where you’ll practice. Once you knew who you’re playing for, that’s when you started to prepare your baseball glove or mitt. Most of my friends liked to oil their mitts, but my preference was placing it under my pillow with a baseball in it when I slept.

Then, there was the first day of practice. On that first day, I’d show up early, hide somewhere and watch my teammates arrive. That gave me the opportunity to see who was on my team. It also allowed me to gauge by the way my teammates tossed the ball if they looked like they were any good as players. Then, right before practice started, I’d be one of the last on the practice field.

As much as you did look forward to the first game, you were equally as excited the day before when the coach handed out uniforms. You tried to push to the front of the line because you always wanted to make sure you got a cool number.

Hank Aaron’s No. 44, Johnny Bench’s No. 5, Pete Rose’s No. 14, Reggie Jackson’s No. 9 (Oakland A’s), Steve Garvey’s No. 6, Willie Stargell’s No. 8…those were the cool numbers. Because there were only 15 players on each team, the numbers went 1-15, and I was a little heartbroken because I didn’t get to wear No. 44. 

So, I settled for my second-favorite player’s number, Dusty Baker’s No. 12. The Dodger fan in me says if I had known back then he’d wind up managing the Giants, I probably would have picked another guy.

Finally, there was Opening Day. The worst part of it was if your team was scheduled to play one of the later games, long after the parades and celebrations in the park were finished. If you had one of those late games, it was murder on your coach.

For one, he had to make sure you didn’t wander off too far you’d miss the game. And he also had to make sure you and your teammates didn’t wear yourselves out goofing around because of too much free time before the game.

Each year, a new group of boys gets to experience the excitement of preparing their first glove, getting their new uniform and playing their first baseball game. It’s nice to know some things haven’t changed.

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