Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Opening Day and Hockey Game: Lets Go Who???

I am confused this year.

Thursday, March 31 is a very special day in America. Opening Day. There are many sports, and many seasons that "begin," but there is only one "Opening Day." There is only one first pitch. There are sports...and then there is Baseball. After a month of Spring Training (note the capital letters everywhere, indicating the mythic quality of these things), it is finally here. It is finally going to count.

On Friday morning, I will buy a newspaper (forget the stupid internet--I want ink on my hands!), and gaze lovingly at the Standings, hoping that the Nats are 1-0, for real. Even if we are 0-1 (which is more likely), I will not be totally unhappy. Its still one of those beautiful Baseball things: a Statistic. And it will be the beginning of that wonderful season of dreams: April and May, when a hot streak can put a terrible team like the Washington Nationals in first place for a few days. One can dream foolish dreams.

Okay, by now you are wondering why I have a picture of John Paul playing hockey up there? Did I load the wrong picture by mistake. No. The picture indicates the reason why I am so existentially confused on this year's Opening Day. While first pitches are being thrown all over America, Mommy, Daddy, and John Paul will be at a hockey game. A hockey game?

Well, it all began a long time ago, when the grandparents gave John Paul a Christmas present: money for tickets to see the Washington Capitals, our local area NHL hockey team. I bought the tickets for the March 31 game before I realized that it was Opening Day. Unlike the Nationals, the Washington CAPITALS are a really good team, with an excellent chance to go deep into the playoffs and perhaps even win the Stanley Cup (the hockey equivalent of the World Series).

After Baseball, John Paul and I probably like hockey best of all sports. He enjoys playing in roller blades (obviously, see above), and we both enjoy watching the Capitals win (usually) several times a week on T.V. (as anyone who has made the tragic mistake of friending me on Facebook knows, because they must suffer through my ongoing status updates throughout the game). For all this, we have never been to Verizon Center to experience the Caps live. So for us, Thursday is Hockey Day. Rock the Red! Go Caps!

Can I do this? Sure, why not.

Hockey has a claim to greatness as a sport in its own right. It is, in fact, that national sport of our dear neighbor (or, rather, neighbour) to the north, Canada. In the last Winter Olympics, I (almost) wanted to root for Team Canada because I knew that the very souls of my Canadian friends were invested in winning the gold, whereas it just doesn't mean the same thing to us. O Canada. I understand. I am a Baseball fan, after all. And although I have never loved hockey (and never could) the way a Canadian does, I do love it--it is a sport that combines astonishing gracefulness with grueling physicality, skilled use of the stick, precision of the shot, and at the same time chaos and dumb luck. Its terribly good fun.

But there is something else that makes hockey a particularly special experience for my son and me. Mommy likes hockey. Yes, it is true. Gentle, kind, generous Eileen--she who would rather capture the crickets in the house and set them free than squash them with rap of a shoe heel like me--gentle Eileen is a hockey fan. A loud and boisterous hockey fan. The girls are still surprised when Mommy jumps up and down in her chair and shouts out when the Caps score a goal. But a goal in hockey is magic. It is beautiful. It deserves the excitement it generates.

And we are so happy that Mommy shares this with us. As for the girls, they get to spend the evening with Uncle Walter. They will have plenty of fun. And so will he.

Meanwhile, sports have always been a precious thing that John Paul and I have shared together. It has a whole new dimension now, with Mommy joining the club. It is hard to tell at this point what interests the girls will develop.

For this year's Opening Day, I have confusion--throw the puck, shoot the ball--but it is the confusion of an abundance of good things. They are not the exalted things, the great things, the earnest things. Part of the charm and beauty of sports is that they do not really "matter"--they belong to that indispensable species of human activity called play. Without play, life is not fully human.

So here comes Thursday. Play ball! or is it "face off, center ice!"--whatever, we will have a good time: John Paul, Mommy, and me.