Opening Day is special wherever you are

CINCINNATI – It doesn’t get much better than a vacation to Disney World or celebrating Christmas morning by opening presents.

I had my version of both on Monday.

Though the setting was Great American Ballpark instead of my beloved PNC Park, Opening Day in Cincinnati was the perfect day trip and a new season of baseball was the ideal gift.

I’ve been to five straight Opening Days in Pittsburgh, stemming back to when I skipped classes in college. I started going to the openers with my father when I was child. We hit at least three at Three Rivers Stadium and I intently waited to see the first regular season game played at PNC Park in person.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The 12-year old version of myself was sick at home with chicken pox. That one setback hasn’t held me down as I have been fortunate enough to attend nine total Opening Days in the 15-year history of PNC Park.

I got more of a historical experience in Cincinnati.

The Queen City is the birthplace of professional baseball and the original home of Opening Day, dating back to 1869 when the Cincinnati Red Stockings ushered in a new era of a fairly new sport.

Throughout the more modern age, Cincinnati would host the first game of the MLB season, usually a 1:05 p.m. first pitch then the rest of the games across the country would follow. However, primetime television spots and a push to begin the season a few weeks earlier has diminished the true tradition of a Cincinnati Opening Day.

Don’t tell any Southwest Ohio natives that I just wrote that. Actually, I don’t believe it either.

There was a playoff atmosphere throughout the city on Monday as more than 100,000 revelers packed downtown streets for the annual Findlay Market parade. Yes, a parade. Not for Independence Day, St. Patrick’s Day or a high school homecoming, but for the dawning of a new baseball season.

It was a wonderful experience.

Led by grand marshals and former Reds pitchers Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers, the parade featured the normal fire trucks, dance troupes and horseback riders – along with fireworks, Reds mascots and even a Corvette carrying actual players.

Closer to the ballpark, thousands were partying by packing bars and street corners. Remember the sheet of black that filled Federal Street in Pittsburgh prior to the postseason games? Imagine a sea of red engulfing the shores of the Ohio River.

That was the scene before the gates opened.

Inside, Cincinnati fans set a regular season attendance record at Great American Ballpark with 43,633. It was loud, and proud.

“The citizens of this Ohio city do not consider Opening Day just as Opening Day,” author Fred Schwed Jr. once wrote. “They consider it one small notch below Christmas.”

I’d like to see how they dress up the city in December because there’s a long way to go to top their commemoration of the national pastime.

Now, every MLB city goes all out for the first game in their home stadium each year. I have chills when I cross the Clemente Bridge with each new season and tears fall down my cheeks midway through the national anthem. Whether you are a baseball fan in Detroit, Atlanta or Seattle, that is bound to happen to you as well. Cincinnati is just known for Opening Day and in my first experience there for the special day, it didn’t disappoint.

I was fortunate to be there earlier in the week and I’m even luckier to be on Pittsburgh’s North Shore on Monday for the Pirates’ home opener.

No matter if you’re there with me, watching on television or listening in the car, you are privileged, also.

Opening Day is a rebirth, a fresh awakening and a positive outlook.

Who couldn’t use progression like that? In baseball and in life.

(Peaslee, a Weirton resident, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com or followed on Twitter at @thempeas)