Every year on the night before Opening Day, I observe the same tradition: I watch Moneyball and then The Sandlot.
The Sandlot simply because it sparks joy and tickles the nostalgia itch good and hard. It’s impossible not to love baseball watching that movie.
Moneyball, on the other hand, drives home one of the core concepts of baseball.
As general manager of the Oakland A’s for 18 seasons through 2016, Billy Beane challenged the way the entire sport thinks and displayed his alternative idea could be successful. In the end, he still failed to meet the goal he set for himself.
Baseball is a sport obsessed with failure. It’s the only sport where being successful four out of every ten times means you’re an all-star. It’s the only team sport where “perfect” is a measurable goal that truly exists, but it is justifiably hard to achieve. Since 1959, there have only been 17 nine-inning perfect games in Division I college baseball, which includes 299 teams.
Baseball is frustrating, and there is no better evidence than LSU’s run over the past decade.
From 2011-17, the Tigers were awarded a national seed as one of the top eight teams in the country. Of those six years, LSU made it to the College World Series in 2013, 2015 and again in 2017 when the Tigers in the finals lost to Florida in two games.
In those three seasons it went to Omaha, LSU posted a combined 163-43 record, good for nearly 80%. And yet still, nothing to show for it. It’s not Maineri or the coaching staff’s fault, nor is it any of the players.
Baseball is just a game built on failure and defying the odds, and the odds simply put haven’t been in LSU’s favor.
The promise of failure is what ultimately makes Opening Day exciting.
No team is going through the season undefeated, it’s simply a mental and psychological wall too big to climb. LSU will lose, and a few defeats may come during the midweek games against in-state teams with less resources and smaller budgets than the Tigers.
But for one day, every team is on equal footing and the same goal is attainable, no matter how large or outlandish it may seem. In a sport harshly ground in reality and analytics, it’s the day for dreamers who untether from the past and any failures that come with it.
“There’s just something special, it’s hard to define why opening night is so exciting and unique,” Mainieri said. “It’s the same way in the major leagues. Opening Day just seems to have some special feeling about it. Everybody’s hopes are so high and everybody believes that this is going to be their year.”
Pitcher Cole Henry cemented his role as LSU’s Friday night starter last year as a freshman. Now that he’s at full health, he will be re-assuming that role. So logically since the first game of the year is the first game of the weekend, he will get the game one nod.
But Opening Day starter is an honor every pitcher wants to have during their career, and Henry is no different.
“It’s obviously super exciting,” Henry said. “I’m ready for it. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to since I committed to play baseball here. It’s definitely been a goal since was younger, to be the guy at a big school. So I’m excited and ready to go.”
“It is baseball and it is a long season, but it’s critical to set the tone early.”
The same is true for every Opening Day, but there’s a special feeling about this one for the Tigers.
The team is healthy for the first time in what feels like eons. LSU not only has a fully healthy weekend rotation, but they could go five or possibly even six deep on starting pitchers. There’s much turnover in the lineup, but the trio of Daniel Cabrera, Cade Beloso, and Saul Garza lay the foundation for highly touted newcomers like Cade Doughty, Alex Milazzo, Maurice Hampton, Wes Toups, Hayden Travinski, and Zack Mathis.
“I’m excited about this team,” Cabrera said. “I’m excited for the new guys who get to play in front of all the people at The Box for the first time in their career.”
You’d like to see more returning experience in your lineup before dreaming of Omaha and getting steaks at The Drover, but the talent is there.
Besides that, for the first time since 2009, the LSU fans believe in magic following the football team’s unprecedented 15-0 national championship run in what may be the greatest season ever for the sport. If the stars aligned for football, with its past offensive struggles and all, then why can’t it line up for the baseball team?
LSU head football coach and Louisiana icon Ed Orgeron will be there on Opening Night to throw the first pitch to Hampton, who was a part of the national championship winning team. On Saturday, LSU career hit leader Antoine Duplantis will fire the first pitch to Cabrera, the same player he passed on to the now-storied No. 8 jersey. And for good measure, the 2019 Little League World Series Champions from River Ridge will toss the first pitch in Sunday’s game 3.
If you believe in magic, that’s good company to keep in hopes of having it rub off on you.