Opening Day. Those are truly two of the most magical words in the sports lexicon.
They represent hope, spring and a new beginning. It's always one of my favorite days, and I have many warm memories of Opening Day's past.
Well, when I say warm, I don't mean that literally. I was a semi-regular at County Stadium Opening Day's, beginning at age 10 when my dad let me skip school and head to my favorite place on earth to watch the Yankees play the Brewers.
Even though it was an especially late opener (they started on the road and it was April 15 before they made it back to Milwaukee), there would be no weather break. Temps were in the mid-40's, with a stiff breeze blowing in from right field.
The game was nothing to write about. The Brewers were shut down by Tommy John in a 7-1 defeat. The game's highlight came when Glenn Braggs took John deep. The reason I'll never forget it? The noise from 55,000-plus fans (a County Stadium record at the time) awoke the man directly to my left from his deep, Pabst-induced slumber.
"Yeee-haw," he exclaimed before power-napping his way through the next three innings.
There was 1994, when Terry Steinbach hit a grand slam off Cal Eldred while flurries flew in the first inning, only to be followed by a stout Brewers rally that resulted in an 11-7 win and a frigid but rollicking crowd.
The reason I enjoyed those County Stadium openers the most, other than the day off school, was to see the ballpark full. That was a rarity. Mid-week games in April and May would regularly draw under 10,000 fans, and the chance to rise as one in the packed old yard was a privilege.
The atmosphere is different now at Miller Park, of course. Things are a little tamer than they used to be, and once you step inside, there's no reason to wonder if you packed enough blankets, or if your Hot Hands would last the full three-plus hours.
But the ceremonial bunting still hangs, the players still line up in crisp uniforms along the perfectly chalked baselines, and all is right again with the world.
Baseball is my constant summer companion, a wonderful daily distraction filled with different lineup configurations, bullpen choices to second-guess and baserunning gaffes that leave you wondering why you followed the game in the first place.
Of course, it's always more fun to follow a winner. In a losing season, you can get by with following the minors, watching young players develop and hoping veterans play well so they bring back a healthy return at the deadline.
But a winning team? There's nothing in the sports world like following a winning baseball team. The daily excitement of meaningful ball is unparalleled.
The Brewers have given their fans precious few seasons since I began following in earnest in 1984 ( I was six, and yes I'm old). There was Team Streak in 1987. A fantastic second-half run in 1992. A return to relevance in 2007, and the promised land of the post-season in 2008.
2011 produced the most memorable season in my time as a fan, while 2012 had a late run, 2014 an epic collapse and 2017 a beautiful surprise.
Expectations are higher for this year's team, and rightfully so. The return the bulk of the squad that won 86 games last year, and added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to a lineup that should be potent.
There's no reason to believe this Crew can't challenge for a Wild Card berth and win close to 90 games. It's going to be a fun summer, and it all starts today at 3:10 p.m. at Petco Park.
Let's do this, Milwaukee.