After more than three months of waiting, it has finally arrived: Today is Opening Day for Major League Baseball.

For me, Opening Day carries the some importance as some national holidays. I grew up a baseball fan and an admitted junky when it comes to baseball history.

Since the Cincinnati Reds formed the first professional baseball team in 1869, baseball evolved into the National Pastime with stars like Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Trout. The style of the game has changed in the last 150 years, but a hit is still a hit and a win is still a win. The numbers of baseball span decades and provide a basis upon which fans can debate which players were the greatest of all time.

Baseball is also a uniquely generational game. One of the fondest memories a young boy may have is playing catch with his father. That is the nature of the game. A father teaches his son about baseball and he in turn teaches his son or daughter. As a result, there is a bond within the family related to baseball.

Though I have lived in Iowa my entire life, I am a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. I am often asked why. The answer is very simple -- my dad was a Reds fan and I inherited his love of the Big Red Machine.

When I was growing up, we did not have satellite dishes and streaming options to watch any game we wanted. We had one weekly game, usually involving either the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, on Saturday afternoon. As a result, we had to depend on the radio and the box scores in the next day’s paper to keep informed on how the team was doing.

My dad and I were able to tune in the AM radio station in Cincinnati that broadcast the games around 9 p.m. most nights. Since Cincinnati was in the Eastern Time zone, which meant the game would often be in the eighth inning. When the Reds played on the West Coast, we felt like we had won the lottery. My parents and I would gather around the kitchen table to play cards, Yahtzee or some other board game and listen to the game.

I grew up listening to the radio calls of Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall. Listening to them call Reds games was what prompted me to enter journalism and pursue a career as a newspaper reporter.

Then, when I was a senior in college, I was exposed to this quirky game called fantasy baseball. The game is based on the idea of selecting or buying the rights to actual Major League Baseball players and building the best team you can. You receive the actual statistics the players on your team and your totals are compared to the other teams in the league to determine the winner for the season.

I played in a league with some of my friends in college for three or four years. However, in 1994, I was invited to join the Clarinda Baseball League and am still actively involved in the league. We held our annual auction to select our players for the shortened 2020 season last Sunday.

However, like so many other things in society, baseball has been dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to safety concerns over the virus, the start of the season was delayed and only 60 games will be played during the regular season this year instead of the traditional 162. Various other rules changes have also been implemented and the teams will be playing in empty stadiums.

Other sports have also slowly eased back into action over the last month as NASCAR has returned to the track, the PGA Tour is underway and both the NBA and NHL are working to salvage their playoffs. The NFL moved held its player draft as scheduled in April and has announced plans to open training camp at the end of July.

However, given the health concerns, political unrest and economic conditions facing the United States at this time, many people are probably wondering if we should really be worrying about playing some silly games.

Well, I believe the answer to that question is very simple: We need a distraction and sports have always helped us through the most challenging times in our nation’s history.

During World War I and World War II, Major League Baseball supported the war effort. The game raised the morale of soldiers overseas, while stars like Iowa native Bob Feller left successful careers to join the military.

Then, in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. This opened the door for many other great African Americans to not only compete in sports, but enter professions they were previously restricted from.

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans were left asking the same questions we face today. The games, races and matches continued and they provided fans with an outlet to cope with the aftermath of that horrific day. Sports provided fans with something to cheer about and in the process helped shape how people responded to their new reality.

Again, we are faced with a new reality and again I believe sports will help set an example on how to respond to the challenges existing in the world today. For that reason I say, “Play Ball!”

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