Forget the calendar. I'll tell you when spring arrived in these parts: precisely at 7:15 p.m. April 3, 2008, when Fernando Rodriguez threw the first pitch of the Arkansas Travelers' season at Dickey-Stephens Stadium in North Little Rock, Ark. It was a ball.
Let a John Updike write rapturously about that "lyric little bandbox of a ball park" up in Boston called Fenway in one of his star turns ("Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu") for The New Yorker circa 1960. But this perfect little retro park alongside the Arkansas River has a still new charm of its own.
Still unhallowed by time, unscarred by much history, waiting to grow on us, this little jewel of a Texas League ballpark is like any other one-year-old, absorbing all the love and adulation grateful fans can offer. It has the one thing none of the storied old major-league parks can offer: It's ours.
For as Chesterton once wrote of an otherwise unprepossessing English mill town, we do not love our city because it is lovely, but because it is ours, and therefore we determine to make it lovely.
It's still 20 minutes before game time this lovely spring evening with rain only in the forecast. There is no milling throng at the gate. Maybe the talk of rain kept folks at home.
But the crowd begins to swell and jell after a while, and the sense of anticipation is the same as on every other opening night. It hits you when you get your first, elevated, electrifying glimpse of the green, green field. Is there any other shade of green so young and hopeful as that of a ballpark under the lights opening night?
All over the country, others are having the same opening night high. In a hundred ballparks, major and minor, at home and away, old men dream dreams and young men see visions. Up north in Springdale, Ark., they're not just opening the season but their new stadium, home of the mouth-filling Northwest Arkansas Naturals. I'm so glad the state's poultry capital didn't pick a name like the Fighting Chickens. (Was it Richard Nixon whom an over-enthusiastic admirer once dubbed the Fighting Quaker?)
All thought of politics and other dross drops away like the years, left behind at the office, as a big black man in a blindingly white frock coat steps up to home plate like steel-drivin' John Henry. He is there to sing the national anthem in a voice that needs no amplification. In a magnificent basso profundo, Mr. Isom Kelly rolls out the anthem like an all-encompassing banner waving high over the park in the restive wind.