Opening night hits everyone from bat boys to superstars, from bullpen coaches to, yes, even the folks who watch from the press box.
Kids in the stands are overwhelmed when their home town heroes burst through clouds of smoke and trot to the foul line as they're introduced. Rookies like Rob Johnson, Matt Tuiasosopo, Shawn Kelley and Chris Jakubauskas get goose bumps and smile a lot.
The games matter beginning now. The spring training crowds and the intimate ballparks in Arizona and Florida are replaced by coliseum-like stadiums and 40,000 or so folks on hand to make noise.
For me, opening night is a wistful event. My father, who shared and enjoyed my love of the game, is gone now. My best friend, a fellow sports writer who went to college with me – and covered the NFL but loved baseball – is gone, too.
They loved baseball and the start of each new season.
So, too, did friend and fellow beat writer John Hickey, whose job was one of those lost when the Seattle Post-Intelligencier ceased publication last month. John is a fine writer, a diligent reporter, and he loves the game.
That he's not here is a loss, to him and to all those readers who enjoyed his work.
And despite all that, I'll get caught up in the emotions of the evening tonight. Seeing Ken Griffey Jr. in a regular season Seattle Mariners uniform is going to take me back, oh, 20 years or so.
Seeing the joy in Mike Sweeney's face at having dodged retirement and become a valued part of a team, that's a pleasure. Watching the guys who made this team late in camp, who sit in the clubhouse wide-eyed and try to say precisely the right thing when asked a question.
To watch Don Wakamatsu's first game as a big-league manager, to see the pride of his coaching staff enjoying the moment – that's a one-time pleasure you can't recreate.
In this ballpark, the Metrodome, I got to watch Kirby Puckett and got to know Tony Oliva. I sat here through a pair of World Series, and was here when Butch Huskey tried to run through the left field wall in pursuit of a long-gone home run.
The next day, Junior and others taped a chalk-like outline of his body on that fence. Even Huskey laughed.
I've had the chance to see the first opening day of dozens of players who became stars – and hundreds who knew just how precious each day in the big leagues could be. And I've seen the final openers for players who meant a lot to me.
Last year, I got to opening day weeks after quintuple by-pass surgery, and watched the game not as a beat writer, but as a fan of the game. After almost dying, one of the things on my list – and yes, after a heart attack, everyone makes a list – was to make it back to an opening day as a beat writer.
This game and the men who play it have a grip on me. Spring training is a lovely time, without pressure, without the tough losses or exhilarating wins that a regular season holds. Opening night is just that, and produces a game that opens six months of baseball. We're about to watch the best players in the world do their best, and their best can be a special thing to watch.
For all of us who love the game, opening night is just short of magic. It's real, and whether on the field or on the couch, watching at home, it reawakens the passion for the game that scandals and strikes, lockouts and steroids cannot ruin.
Welcome to opening night. Enjoy.