Earlier this month, all of the spectacle and pageantry was on full display as Major League Baseball opened its new season.
There were the standard fireworks, flyovers, introductions and star-studded national anthems, all of the things that come standard and mean that professional baseball is back.
Opening Day is always a fun day to watch as the events unfold and teams take the field with a blank slate from a year ago, some as first-time defending champions and others picking up right where they left off after a poor showing this past season.
Texas opened with a loss to Houston, who, a few days later, revealed their 2017 World Series banner in Opening Day ceremonies at Minute Made Park in Houston.
World Series banners, B-52 flyovers and all that jazz certainly are cool to see but no big-time show can top the Opening Day held Saturday at Lear Park.
And it’s not even close.
On Saturday morning, the Orioles and Astros hit the field at the Miracle League of East Texas’ Gene Allen Miracle Field for Opening Day ceremonies, a day that’s been a few years in the making.
Judging by the ear-to-ear smiles and the tears of joy, it was well worth the wait.
What didn’t take long were the cheers, laughter and joy that overflowed the field, a special playing surface designed to allow children with disabilities enjoy the game of baseball and create memories that will last a lifetime. For those in attendance, several hundred, it was a day that won’t soon be forgotten.
The project, which broke ground late in 2015, was one that was a combined effort, pointed out by Miracle League of East Texas president Chris Stuckey in his opening remarks.
Of course, the national anthem was played before the first pitch, a nice rendition by White Oak’s Cole Allen.
Soon after, two words that mean so much to baseball fans rang out for those in attendance and those ready to take the field: “Play ball!”
Nearly 40 players over four teams and two games then hit the field to play the nation’s pastime. Each player had their name called out as they stepped up to plate. Their pictures and names were shown on the video board.
Jase Layman had the honors of taking the opening swing, which resulted in a base hit and a thunderous cheer from the crowd. Those cheers didn’t stop throughout the day.
Fittingly, Layman, on the Orioles’ team, scored the first run ever at the Gene Allen Miracle Field.
It’s fitting because Longview’s own and Baltimore Oriole Chris Davis was among the countless to help build the field, which will host games over the next four Saturdays. Davis donated $50,000 in 2017.
A large number of volunteers – known in the Miracle League as ‘Buddies’ — assisted the players at the plate and in the field. Among those volunteers for Opening Day was the Union Grove baseball team, who moved to 12-4 on the season with a win on Friday night. The Lions were there for high fives, cheers and any help that was needed, a move that was abundantly appreciated by the players and their families. Longview basketball Jason Bush, who later on Saturday competed in an all-star game in Tyler, was also amongst the ‘Buddies.’
Bonds and memories were created between the players and their buddies, a day that is safe to say neither will soon forget.
Saturday was about baseball but at the same time it wasn’t.
As then-board president Bob Graham, who found out just moments before that he would throw out the ceremonial first pitch, told the News-Journal following the ground breaking in 2015, “Every child deserves the chance to play baseball … to create and share those lifelong memories most of us take for granted.” Graham’s words rang true on Saturday.
Baseball is a sport enjoyed by everyone and now, thanks to the tireless efforts of so many, everyone, regardless of physical challenges, will get to enjoy it.
Saturday was baseball at its purest, a day of smiles and, easily, the best Opening Day ever.