I still remember my first Opening Day, so I must have a good memory, because it was in 2001, with the Marlins, when I made the team, and it was special. Getting a callup during the season, as I had the previous May, is also special. But there is nothing like knowing you're breaking camp with the team … that is the ultimate. And I still have the same feeling, knowing that I'll get to go north with the Pirates.
I can get pretty emotional about the whole thing. I've gotten to pitch professionally for 17 years, and just thinking about someday not having an Opening Day, about baseball going on without you … that's tough. When you get to experience Opening Day as a player, it's super-duper -- not many people still use that, "super-duper," right? -- but getting to live it as a player, that about sums it up.
We can get a lot of Opening Days on the road as well as at home. I remember with the Tigers, being in Boston for the Red Sox's home opener in 2008, after they had won the World Series, and watching them get their rings in an awesome ceremony. That's Opening Day, too, when there is a lot of on-the-field stuff to commemorate special accomplishments.
It's a happy day, filled with almost as much excitement leading up to it as a playoff game. The anticipation … "It's really starting, for real." All the hard work you put in, and now it's time to go. And it's not just for us, the players. It's for our families, too. I always get cards from my wife and other relatives, with the message "Have a great season."
Does Hallmark make any Opening Day cards? They should. I bet there would be plenty of people who would buy them. It's a holiday for baseball fans, for sure. I heard about the petition going around to lobby the White House to declare Opening Day an official holiday. Where do I sign? I'm all in with that movement.
We do the same thing every day, from the middle of February until at least the end of September, and all the days blend together, so it's nice when a day stands out. At the end of it, people will forget about a game on May 17. But you will always remember March 31, or whatever day Opening Day falls on. You come out of the chute and you always want to put your best foot forward. And you can't get away from the superstitious stuff. If you have a good day, you're gonna think, "It's gonna be a good year."
Even the anticipation excites me, knowing everything I put into it in the offseason. I couldn't wait for Opening Day 2013 to arrive. For me, it was 16 years in the making. For months, I heard all the questions about, "Can he do this? Can he be a closer?" And I had my own personal thoughts and feelings, because of what I do in the offseason when nobody is watching.
People celebrate their birthdays. Well, Opening Day is baseball's birthday, and everyone gets to celebrate it together. And this one will be pretty special in Pittsburgh, because we'll get to celebrate an accomplishment. Not the one we signed up for -- we wanted to raise the pennant. But I get excited looking forward to seeing the fans again, seeing lots of kids getting out of school because they now have more appreciation for having a baseball team in Pittsburgh. It has been really cool to see the change in the culture. It makes it easy for me to be as excited about this Opening Day as any. It just keeps getting better and better.
At 37, it still stirs me. You have a couple of minutes of solitude while standing for the national anthem, and your mind is filled with different thoughts than while standing for any other rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." You have all these grand visions, personal and team goals, what we're all in it for. You don't take it for granted.
For us on the field, it's the chance to welcome another season, to write the prologue to another book. For the fans, it's the chance to welcome spring. It's a fresh start for everyone. And there is nothing better.