Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Baseball is back, thank God

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Mon April 1, 2013
Rajai Davis of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated after a home run in a spring training game last week in Fort Myers, Florida.
Rajai Davis of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated after a home run in a spring training game last week in Fort Myers, Florida.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The start of the baseball season coincides with Easter this year
  • John Avlon says the church of baseball is open to all
  • Avlon: Return of baseball is a reliable sign of spring and a moment to savor

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of "Independent Nation" and "Wingnuts" as well as the co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' award for best online column in 2012.

New York (CNN) -- Forget Punxsutawney Phil's predictions. The words "Play ball!" are the most dependable sign that spring has arrived in America. Finally, baseball season is here.

Maybe because it is an outdoor game, with a schedule stretching across three seasons. Maybe because it is a child's game played by men, bridging the different times of our lives. But the start of the baseball season is always greeted with relief, a sign of rebirth and hope, that this year appropriately coincides with Easter. 

Winter is over. The bleak time has been survived. And slowly but soon the familiar rhythms of life will reassert themselves. This, as it's referred to in the film "Bull Durham," is the church of baseball, open to all. 

John Avlon
John Avlon

It is a sport more appropriately known as a pastime, "the national pastime." The pace of the game is part of its charm -- meditation and strategy interspersed with furious action. The sounds of the game are the background track to summer. As a sport played without a clock, a baseball game occurs out of time. It could theoretically go on forever.

The past is always present in baseball -- it is "a haunted game," as Ken Burns' documentary "Baseball" intones, with typically perfect pitch. The best players of today compete not just with the players in their league, but the best players of all time. Statistics are the unlikely portal to this bit of metaphysics. Fans can compare players of different eras and dream up their own all-time all-star team. This is another reason to love the game: Baseball can inspire young fans to see the fun in math and history.

I am a Yankees fan, first minted in 1979, looking up at a poster of Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph and Greg Nettles -- meaning that I waited 17 years to see them return to World Series-winning form. It was a case of bad timing:  I stayed true when just about everyone my age in New York was rooting for the Mets in their championship 1986 season. This takes not quite as much character as remaining a Chicago Cubs fan, but it's somewhere in the same ballpark. 

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Now with the Yankee players of the legendary late 1990s teams reaching the twilight of their careers, I am not expecting to win our division this year, let alone see the World Series. But with the start of the new season, a blank slate in front of us, the possibility exists, and that in itself is liberating.

As much as I love the Yankees, I love the game of baseball more. Which is why I always harbor a secret hope on opening day that the long-suffering Cubs fans will finally get to see a World Series win in their antique jewel of a ballpark, Wrigley Field.  I want to see baseball tradition and fan faith rewarded.  Even when the Yankees' archrivals, the Boston Red Sox, won their 2004 World Series after 86 years of waiting, I quietly cheered, because New England fans had waited long enough and deserved some deliverance. The love of the game comes first.

These are a fan's notes before opening day, a rambling love letter to a game that still surprises me with how much I miss it in the offseason.  None of these thoughts or emotions is entirely original, but they are from the heart. 

Derek Jeter: 'Odd' to be on sidelines
Magic Johnson's 'Slip 'n Slide' baseball

The church of baseball has many hymns, from Ken Burns' epic "Baseball," to films like "The Natural" and "Field of Dreams," to books like "The Boys of Summer." Sports columnists like Red Smith, Jim Murray and Shirley Povich captured enduring moments in the newspapers of their day.

But the finest tribute, to my eyes and ears, came from the typewriter of Bart Giamatti, the one-time president of Yale and Red Sox fan, who died of a heart attack at the age of 51, just 154 days into his tenure as the commissioner of baseball: "It is designed to break your heart," he wrote. "The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."

But this is the beginning of the season. The knowledge that "this too will pass" takes away none of the thrill that comes with new beginnings. There are green outfields and long summer days ahead of us. The story of this season is about to be written and we will all get to be witnesses. Finally. Again. 

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT