It’s finally here. My favorite day of the year. The day when, at least in theory, people around the country cast off their winter coats and boots, join hands and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in unison, and head to the ballpark to celebrate Opening Day.
It’s not quite working out that way, at least not in New York. It’s cold and rainy, and the only local team on the schedule has already called off their game.
No worries here. As I’ve done every year since 2012, I am playing hooky and heading to Standings—aka the best sports bar in the city, if not the world—for Opening Day.
It’s a bit of a homecoming. The bar was closed last year because, a few weeks before the 2015 season was to begin, a gas leak caused an explosion in several neighboring buildings, which collapsed and killed two people in the process. (Many more were displaced; donate to the relief fund here.) The loss of a sports bar is, of course, nothing next to the loss of two lives, but it was still a shocking turn of events. Opening Day was out of the question, but would the place known as “sports nirvana” come back? And would it be the same?
Because the thing about Standings is that it’s not just a bar—it’s a community.
Though it is quite a bar. As a friend of mine once put it, it’s probably the smallest bar in NYC. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. Eight TVs. A pair of seats from Shea Stadium. An awesome poster of ‘80s-era Keith Hernandez smoking in the Mets dugout.
Like the city itself, it’s a refuge for immigrants, so it’s not a Knicks bar or a Rangers bar or, thank god, a Yankees bar. (Or even, really, a Mets bar, even if the owner is a huge fan.) Whatever team you root for, there’s probably a piece of memorabilia there for you. You’ll find, say, Mizzou posters next to KU memorabilia. Or a Starting Lineup figure from a long-forgotten Cincinnati Red. Standings is a place where a Midwesterner-in-exile can wander in on a random summer Sunday and have them put on a meaningless Twins game—with sound—on a main TV. Most sports bars treat sports like a means to an end—a way to get people in the door and spending money. Standings gets that sports is the end, and that makes all the difference.
But back to the community thing. Last year, the city forbade local businesses from opening in the wake of the building collapse, so Standings was unable to host Opening Day. No worries—the community, including the owner, took over the nearby bar Finnerty’s. It felt different. The beer wasn’t as good, the layout wasn’t as ideal, the vibes were off. But some things remained the same: the regulars cheered on their teams. The owner rang his signature cowbell every time the Mets scored. And my Twins looked wildly overmatched, getting shutout 4-0 by David Price and the Tigers.
Put it in the books. Here we go again.
I remember that first year at Standings because my Twins were playing the Orioles, and I joked to a friend and Baltimore fan that it was an ALCS preview. Both teams were coming off 90-loss seasons, and neither team looked very promising. Turned out I was (almost) half right. Those O’s went on to win 90+ games, made the playoffs, and have done a pretty good job exceeding expectations ever since.
My Twins lost 90 games for the second year in a row. Then they did it again in 2013. And in 2014.
Which brings us to last season.
The Twins were actually, like, good. Not making-the-playoffs-good, but still: the team had a winning record for the first time since Obama’s first term, and was actually pretty watchable. So now, coming into this year, there are expectations. You’ve got Miguel Sano, who debuted last year and can absolutely tattoo a baseball. You’ve got Byron Buxton, a rookie this year, and the guy who made this catch. You’ve got Byung Ho Park from Korea, also a rookie, and also a guy who can tattoo a ball. You’ve got a few decent pitchers, a few intriguing prospects, an All-Star second baseman, and an American League where literally every team thinks it has a shot. It’s a long season, and anything can happen.
So like I said, there are expectations.
There are expectations for me beyond baseball this year, too. That’s part of why I’m starting this blog, which I expect to update about once a week. (Future post ideas include Why Baseball?, and Why Does an Omaha-Born NYC Transplant Root for the Twins? Have an idea? Hit me up on Twitter.)
My expectations center around change—2016 just feels like a year of change. There’s the election, of course. There are some personal things I will touch on later. It’s shaping up to be a big year.
And then there’s baseball itself, ever-changing, yet always the same. Like anything with such a long history, everything in baseball has happened before, but never quite like this.
So here we are again. Another Opening Day. Standings is open again. I’m playing hooky again. And my Twins face off against the Orioles again.
It’s all happened before. But never quite like this.