On this year’s opening day, excitement washed over many ballparks, as a multitude of home runs arced as gracefully into the abyss as Tony Romo’s career.
It was neither lights-out pitching nor acrobatic fielding that made headlines during each team’s opening day this week, but rather a slew of home runs across the league.
ESPN.com reported on statistics compiled by the Elias Sports Bureau that revealed a total of 10 players under the age of 25 hit home runs in the first games of their respective seasons.
You may recognize a few names: Boston Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi, who homered against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Corey Seager, who contributed to a 14-3 crucifixion of the San Diego Padres with a three-run homer and Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper, who ignited his team’s offense by going deep on a 95-mph fastball.
It marked the first time in major league history that 10 players under 25 years old went deep on their respective opening days. If this statistic is any indication, the younger generation of Major League Baseball could single-handedly carry the appeal of the 2017 season on its backs. The sluggers of today seemed to thrive off the unique buzz of opening day.
And baseball’s young stars were not the only ones getting in on the action — just ask San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, who hit not one but two bombs during the Giants’ season opener. The pitcher is known for his surprisingly powerful bat, and carried the momentum of opening day to a historic performance at the plate.
These many notable performances beg the question about the true merit of opening day. When the last out is made, when the fans empty out of their respective stadiums, what is left of opening day except statistics only baseball nerds and fantasy-leaguers boasting prematurely about their expert drafts care about?
Perhaps opening day provides a much-needed adrenaline boost and a new environment for players who had spent the last few months playing long, quiet games in Florida and Arizona.
After all, a uniqueness to Major League Baseball’s opening day exists that is unparalleled in other sports — but does that mean that the performances on baseball’s opening day indicate something real about how this season will go?
To explore this question, turn to the phenomenon of last season’s opening day. We all knew the Cubs had potential, but no one could have predicted their incredible 9-0 win over the Angels — which, in retrospect, might not have been as shocking considering the disaster that was the Angels’ 2016 season.
The Cubs’ momentum continued throughout the season, with the team finishing a whopping 17.5 games ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Central and, of course, winning the World Series.
So, can opening day be an indicator of World Series-quality teams? Perhaps. But this conclusion would be largely reactionary. The Dodgers had a similarly dominant performance, albeit against another rather weak California team, but are not the biggest contenders for a championship title.
If the Dodgers do win the World Series, of course we can all say that opening day 2017 was a sign, and some could argue that opening day clues the baseball world into a season’s elusive future.
But the nature of opening day is largely inconsistent. Ten of the youngest players hit home runs for the first time ever, yes. But there were also players of the same caliber as Seager and Benintendi that did not have as impressive showings.
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez went 0-5 in the Bombers’ opening loss to Tampa Bay. So is opening day an indicator of Sanchez’s season? Is Sanchez going to enter a deep slump until mid-July? Realistically, only time will tell. But in all likelihood, the chances this opening day predicts the narrative for Sanchez’s season is slim.
The commencement of this year’s regular season yielded a number of statistical firsts and surprises, as well as disappointments from some talents and unsurprising impressive showings from others. But like every year, we have little to no ability to call opening day indicative of the rest of the season.
Opening day sets a tone for the beginning of 162 regular season games and another month or so of postseason — a tone that is either a positive momentum to ride or a negative sentiment to battle back from. Apart from that, however, the merit of opening day lies only in its emotional value of perpetuating excitement, adrenaline and hope.
The statistics are simply too young to speak for themselves.