When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Southern California, Opening Day in baseball, like all things in baseball back then, was still very strictly ruled by tradition.
It occurred on the first Monday in April. There was only one game played. That one game occurred in Cincinnati, Ohio, home of the Reds, which, as the oldest team in the Major Leagues, had the high honor of hosting the first game of the season. Every year.
The game was played in the early afternoon, in glorious early spring daylight. Before the game the City of Cincinnati held a parade to celebrate the beginning of the season. If your team was lucky enough to be playing against the Reds that day, you would ditch school or call in sick to work to watch Opening Day on television.
The next day, the first Tuesday in April, was Opening Day for every other team.
These were The Rules. No true baseball fan questioned them. They were the best kind of rules - unwritten, but bound by tradition and held in place by a culture that valued tradition.
Baseball had many rules back then - the separation of the two leagues during the season; home field advantage in the World Series that alternated between the leagues every other year; postseason games that featured only the teams that had actually won their division (or before divisions, their league)...no wild cards.
Money and a deterioration of respect for tradition (which, truthfully, I haven't decided is always a good thing or always a bad thing) have changed all that. And I admit I miss the old traditions, especially when I see "Opening Day" taking place (as it has in the recent past) as a glorified exhibition game in an overseas stadium, or on a Sunday night, or (as it is this year for the first time) on a Thursday.
Sure, Cincinnati is at home today, and it's a day game, and as far as I know the parade will still take place, but the game is just one of six being played around the Big Leagues, and it starts an hour after the first two games get underway. It's just not the same.
And yet, despite the loss of something that once was so special because of those silly old rules - the tingle of excitement still fills the air to those of us who love baseball. Opening Day still has its magic, and I can't imagine it'll ever lose all of it.
As most fans know, here in the vast geographical and cultural melting pot loosely defined as "L.A." (roughly the San Diego County Line to the south, the northern border of Santa Barbara County to the north and all the way to Las Vegas to the east), there is something even more important and foundational than the game itself when baseball season comes.
It is a sound. It is as recognizable as the scent of sage blowing in from the high desert; as hard-wired into our consciousness here in La-La Land as the sight of a movie star in line at the swap meet or the flavor of an amazing burrito bought from a renegade food truck parked on a side street.
It is a voice. As familiar and comforting as a parent's voice to a child late at night. A voice that, more than any other sensual trigger, motivates an entire region toward an almost mythic and undefinable joy - and the feeling of reassurance that everything is as it should be.
Vin Scully came to Los Angeles in 1958 when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn, at 30 years of age the youngest play-by-play man ever to work behind a major league microphone (he had begun his career with the Dodgers in Brooklyn at the age of 22). He started as a sidekick to the legendary Red Barber, who taught Scully the two most important traits of a baseball announcer: always be a reporter first and always let the game speak for itself.
Scully took both of those lessons and expanded them into by far the most distinct sound in American sports. To this day there is no one - and I've heard all of Scully's contemporaries thanks to the wonders of satellite radio - who can describe a game on the radio like Scully, interspersing the most boring or one-sided game with ear-catching anecdotes, statistics and experiences from a lifetime in the game.
Much has been written about Scully's style, and for years we Angelenos shared Vinny with the rest of the country as he worked national games for NBC television and CBS Radio (he also worked PGA and NFL for CBS-TV for several years). No need to delve extensively into his excellence as a broadcaster here - that has been and will be written about by many others.
But here's the thing virtually no one outside Southern California will likely understand: The man is as close to being a physical part of the landscape here as is possible for a human being to be.
I am 53 years old. I have lived in Southern California all but six years of that time. Vin Scully has personified spring and summer and early autumn for me from the very first time the sound of a baseball game entered my consciousness. This is true for everyone my age or younger who grew up here. There is no other point of reference for us - Scully's voice is more than the sound of a particular sport. It is the sound of our youth and of our growth; the one constant in a lifetime of change. We grew up with earplugs connected to transistor radios on long summer nights, listening to Vin Scully describe the feats of our heroes, falling asleep happily adrift in sound waves carrying the soft, steady kindness of a true friend.
"Hello everybody, and a very pleasant good day to you, wherever you may be." Those words at the start of every game Scully calls signal more than just a timeless warmth. They signal to anyone who's ever been caught in a 2-hour traffic jam at 7:45 pm on an endlessly clogged freeway that there is something more, something fun - someting special - about living here. That life, in short, is good.
There is a very large group of Dodger fans of a certain age here in Southern California, and among us, I promise you there is one huge unspoken fear - as we feel the pull of our own mortality, we have had to come to grips with the fact that Scully, now 82, is not actually as permanent as the mountains to the north or the ocean to the west. He will not be here forever. And we are in a panic knowing this.
The day Scully's voice disappears from the airwaves of Los Angeles - and I believe this is not an exaggeration - there will be more communal weeping in this town than has ever been witnessed shy of a national tragedy, and maybe not even then.
And so we appreciate it even more now than we ever did. We relish every syllable and find ourselves actually stopping in our tracks, appreciating perhaps for the first time every single glorious word from the Voice of Los Angeles summertime.
It's Opening Day. Today every fan can dream of their team winning 162 games and the Series. Today all things are possible.
To celebrate, take a listen to this audio clip, perhaps Vin Scully's finest moment in a career of fine moments, as he calls the final pitches of Sandy Koufax's perfect game against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965. Pull up a chair and enjoy all the pomp and circumstance, the fuss and the feathers of our National Pasttime as described by one of American broadcasting's greatest artists.
And have a very pleasant good Opening Day, wherever you may be.