Today is Opening Day.
Okay, so it’s not OFFICIALLY Opening Day, that happened a few days ago; this is just the Home Opener. But, really, it’s Opening Day.
The Rockies haven’t played their first game of the season at Coors Field since 2011, and you’d have to go back to 2007 for the time before that. They did manage to open the season at home for the 2 years prior, back to 2005. Incidentally, that was the last time I missed a Rockies home opener.
My family had season tickets from 1993 until 2001; at that point me and my older sisters were too busy for my parents to justify spending money on 162 seats before the season even started. We still went to plenty of games, but our attendance was spotty at best. It only got more challenging when I got to high school.
The last time I missed an Opening Day I was a sophomore in high school. It was the last year I spent my afternoons playing on an organized baseball team. I use the term “playing” loosely, as playing catcher during practice and sitting on the bench during games could hardly be considered playing. As such, we couldn’t manage to make it out to the ballpark for the festivities that day. When I got home from practice, I was just in time to see the highlights of this frail rookie shortstop named Clint Barmes hit a two-run home run off Trevor Hoffman. I cursed baseball for making me miss baseball. A few weeks later, I struck out twice in one inning and began to think maybe it was time for me to hang up the spikes.
I haven’t missed an Opening Day since.
Wake, O Sleeper, rise from the dead…
I would venture to say that baseball fans get more excited about the beginning of baseball season than most other sports do. This isn’t because they somehow love their sport a little less perfectly than baseball fans do; it’s because the beginning of baseball season means the beginning of so much more than a 162-game season. Baseball is the Summer Game and Opening Day is the First Day of Summer, equinoxes and solstices be damned. After spending so many months being cold and/or inside, Opening Day signals baseball is coming, bringing longer days and starry nights and green trees and bright flowers and cookouts and life with it. The hope baseball fans feel isn’t only tied to their team but to this season. The world is rising from its slumber, and the crack of the bat is what startles it awake. That is why Opening Day means to much to all of us. But for me, it means even more. To me, Opening Day means family.
In 2007 the Rockies were coming off a disappointing season, but they had closed out the previous September on a high note. There was talk—albeit very little talk—of them as a sleeper candidate. My dad and I had gone out of our way the previous year to get tickets to Opening Day but this year it slipped by us. At the last minute we decided we had to be there. He pulled me out of school and we raced downtown. At this time Opening Day wasn’t quite the massive celebration in Denver it is today so we were able to find parking less than an hour before first pitch. We looked around for scalpers but ultimately decided to try the ticket counter first. “I have two seats available together,” the lady behind the glass told us as the military flyover screamed overhead, “about 15 rows back from the Rockies dugout.” I didn’t give my dad a chance to balk at the price. We were in. And about 10 rows down from us sat Governor Bill Owens. A friend of ours knew him so I decided to go introduce myself and shake his hand. He was impressed with my Colorado state flag belt buckle. I said “Thank you, sir.” The Rockies lost that day but the whole experience had us hooked.
After that glorious summer and impossible Rocktober, we decided we couldn’t be without Opening Day tickets ever again and bought into a mini-plan with some of my dad’s coworkers. For the next few years I would get on the BX from Boulder to Denver around 10am the day of the game, shirking responsibilities like classes and group projects, just to be near 20th and Blake. I witnessed this day grow from a celebration among die-hards to a full blown city holiday, complete with drumlines and rooftop parties, free food and t-shirt vendors, face painters and scalpers. If you weren’t in LoDo during the Home Opener, you were missing out. The electricity in the air—there’s hardly a better term to describe it—would give me goosebumps as I strolled from the RTD station closer and closer to the stadium. Like a hibernating bear crawling out of its cave, the stadium and everything around it was alive, and there was joy and hope in my life. And my dad was always there, grinning from ear to ear just like me, ecstatic for another baseball season.
So it became a tradition. We got our own mini-plan and we renewed it every December. Come February, we’d register for the Opening Day Ticket Opportunities because now my mom was in on the festivities and we had to get a seat for her and potentially my sisters so two seats wasn’t enough. Then, in October 2010 I met a girl. This girl loved the Rockies as well. They were part of the bond for her and her mom just like they were for me and my dad, so we connected on that immediately. As February drew near I knew I was ready to make the ultimate commitment. We had a baseball-themed Valentine’s Day, going to our favorite gameday restaurants for dinner and dessert before wandering over to the Ballplayer Statue. There, I got on one knee, took a small box from my pocket and asked her if she’d go to Opening Day with me. Even though the Rockies lost our first Opening Day together (Barry Zito throwing a shutout in 2011—you serious?) it was clear she was part of the family, part of the tradition. 7 months later, after a tour of Coors Field together, I got on one knee again, and we were married in August 2012.
But that decision brought change: new marriage, new job, new life in a city 1100 miles from home, from Denver, from Coors Field. It had been 7 years since I missed an Opening Day and it looked like that streak was in jeopardy. Memphis to Denver wasn’t an easy route no matter how we traveled. Soon we found it to be too expensive to fly home on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but lo and behold April tickets were exceptionally cheap. I explained to my supervisor it wasn’t about baseball, it was about family. It wasn’t just an event, it was among the primary traditions in the Peterson household. He didn’t require much convincing—baseball fans speak the same language. By year two, it was more or less a part of my contract. Now if only we can get my wife’s principal to agree to the same arrangement…
As I write this I’m on Frontier Airlines Flight 803 Nonstop Memphis to Denver. I’m buzzing with anticipation because Opening Day means coming home. Not just for the boys in purple but for me and my family. The script of the next 24 hours is already streaming through my mind. When I land we will go and get dinner and then head home for an early evening. We will wake up early in the morning, my mom and dad and I will don as much purple as we can find and we will load up a bag with peanuts, Red Vines, and waters.
Our goal will be to arrive in LoDo around 11am, just as the festivities are kicking into high gear and work our way through the throng of people to see Joel the Hot Dog Vendor on the corner of 19th and Wynkoop and get ourselves the best deal in town (tell him Adam sent you). We’ll meander our way through the crowds, snagging swag where we can and high fiving strangers because baseball is back in town baby and there is no sweeter time to be alive. There will be a detour to our brick beneath the Ball Statue outside the left-field gate, and then we’ll walk around the stadium, listening to Jack Corrigan and Jerry Schemmel produce their live show on KOA (maybe I’ll get another shout-out for my purple Bermuda shorts). We’ll listen to the revelers on the rooftops celebrating that the biggest party in town is ready to roll and meet up with my in-laws, attending their first Opening Day. There will be pictures taken of fans dressed to the nines and of the drumline leading everyone to the gate before tearing ourselves away from the party outside to the party inside reserved for 50,000 VIPs.
We’ll find our seats, section 330 row 12 right behind home plate and only a few seats away from where, as season ticket holders, my dad and I watched the 1998 All Star Game. Our hands will grow slightly numb from cheering on the introductions of the hometown team. We’ll stand and kindly remove our caps as the military color guard unfurls the biggest flag you ever did see as an excited, nervous singer offers the most important performance of her life (at least to us), punctuated by fireworks and purple, black, silver, and white balloons floating into the sky. We’ll watch as our Rockies “Take the Field” to the overtures of the Denver Symphony Orchestra and I’ll sit down, my mom on my left, my dad on my right, a hot dog in hand. The umpire will signal to Tyler Matzek that it’s time to go and he’ll fire a fastball, juiced from the energy of a full house, into the catcher’s glove.
And I’ll smile because, in that moment, all will be right with the world. It’s Opening Day.