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10:46 am
Fri April 6, 2012

A Fan's Notes: Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

Tonight, once again, families throughout Kansas City will gather together and reflect on a simple question: “Why is this night different?”

For anyone who believes in carrying on tradition from one generation to the next, the answer should be obvious, says "A Fan's Notes" commentator Victor Wishna: tonight is the first night…of the Royals’ new season. … And yes, it’s also the first night of Passover.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to compare the Exodus from Egypt to the end of Spring Training, or juxtapose the Israelites’ forty years in the wilderness against the Royals’ now-twenty-seven-year playoff drought. Not exactly.

Despite the obvious parallels—the tested faith, the yearning to return to a promised land many have never seen, the fact that stadium pretzels taste a bit…unleavened—I understand, the analogy with Passover is not entirely apt. The American League Central…is not Sinai. Royals manager Ned Yost—though he might look like Charlton Heston from the right angle—is not Moses.

And yet, here we are. The temporal proximity of baseball’s Opening Day and the Jewish Festival of Freedom—and for that matter, Easter Sunday [or the Persian New Year or the Chinese Spring Festival]—is not pure coincidence. In so many cultures and traditions, spring—when nature itself seems to reawaken—is a time for renewal, redemption…even resurrection.

Opening Day, the "official" start of spring for any baseball fan, is a symbol of rebirth in its own right. There will be 161 more games before the playoffs, but only now is the record spotless, 0-0. A new start, with new possibilities.

For fans, the allure of sports is the eternal hope of spring, no matter the season, or the odds, or the score. But whereas every sports year has a beginning, only one really has an Opening Day.

The NFL’s “Kickoff Weekend” is a manufactured media event. The NBA just appears one day and—barring a lockout—never seems to go away. But baseball’s beginning is a more organic sign of renewal, coming as it does just as the sun comes out [though it was early this year], the sky turns blue, and the infield grass emerges into a brilliant green (especially if its Astroturf). Joe DiMaggio looked forward to every Opening Day “like a birthday party when you're a kid,” he said. “You think something wonderful is going to happen.”

For Kansas City fans, something really could. It’s the first big-league opener for the Royals’ young stars-to-be—Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella—with more on their way from Triple A. By the time the All-Star Game arrives at Kauffman Stadium this July—uh, yeah, let’s not forget about that—multiple Royals may actually be playing in it. …

“Next year in Jerusalem,” the enduring yet hopeful last line of the Passover Seder, echoes in the sports fan’s mantra of “There’s always next year.” But…as Ned Yost told Sports Illustrated last week, “We’re going for it this year.” Holy Moses!

And hey, if not now, when? Spring is a time of new life and new hope. Flowers begin to bloom, baby animals fill the zoo, age-old acts of redemption are retold—and your Kansas City Royals are tied for first place.

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