CINCINNATI — Opening Day is a holiday in Cincinnati.
OK, not officially, but you wouldn’t know it if you drove through bumper-to-bumper traffic in downtown Cincinnati today.
It’s a day in which the town unofficially shuts down at 12 noon. It doesn’t matter if the Reds open at 1 p.m., or like today at 4:10 p.m. against the Cardinals.
Don’t even think about calling anyone in Cincinnati past 10 a.m. They are already in full baseball mode.
And, if you are a grade-school student, just show your Opening Day tickets and you are good to hit the trail for downtown at 12 noon or so.
For some, it’s the official first day of spring, even if the weather rarely cooperates.
It was 37 degrees and rainy for Opening Day in 2009. That was the second coldest Reds’ opener ever, after the 35-degree day in 1901.
No matter the weather, the fans turn out and get in the full spirit of the day. A sea of red covers the ballpark and it becomes a true celebration of the return of baseball.
It’s a day to sit there and soak in all the festivities like a wet sponge.
The elephants are long gone, but one can always hope for another first pitch fiasco like former Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory delivered before the 2007 opener. The pitch somehow took a severe left turn, went through the Reds’ on-deck circle and nearly scooted its way into the Reds dugout. Google “Mayor Mallory first pitch” if you need a good laugh.
Then, there’s the parade.
The Reds’ parade is part of history, as it winds its way through the blocked-off downtown streets. It dates back to the first Findlay Market Parade in 1920.
Last week WLW radio personality Billy Cunningham said that the Ohio State/Michigan football game is “minor league” compared to the Reds’ Opening Day.
Well, there’s nothing minor about Ohio State vs. Michigan. And there’s nothing minor about Xavier vs. Cincinnati, either.
But every major sports event is different, whether it’s The Masters, the World Series, the Final Four, the Super Bowl or OSU vs. Michigan. Throw in the Indy 500 and the Kentucky Derby, and there’s something there for everyone.
They are all special in their own way and for different reasons.
Some are events or parties, with the game playing a back-up role. The Super Bowl has both the game and the party.
The World Series, NBA finals and Stanley Cup finals have the back-and-forth flow of a possible seven-game series.
The Final Four has the college atmosphere and unpredictability of a possible Cinderella pulling off a magical title.
Opening Day has a little of everything.
It’s the pre-game festivities.
It’s the Reds’ cakes in the window of the Mount Washington Bakery.
It’s former Reds’ players as the grand marshal of the parade.
It’s the red, white and blue bunting around the ballpark.
It’s the fly over, which comes and goes in a blink of an eye just before the first real pitch.
It’s the announcing of the teams on the base lines.
And, its baseball.
It brings back the day when you never heard the words “free agents” or “steroids.”
For many, it brings back the days in the backyard when a father or mother first lobbed a ball to them while they swung a plastic bat.
It’s the first time you broke in a new glove, oiled it up and wrapped it with a ball over night.
For some, it’s a memory of parents who are no longer with them.
It’s a memory of a father who spent endless hours with you hitting grounders until the sun went down.
Then you recall why you first liked baseball in the first place.