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The Sublime First Error; Or, An Ode to Ian Desmond

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Opening Day is a day of optimism, right up until that first error is made and the player has nowhere to hide.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

There's really no way to talk about Opening Day without a heavy reliance upon metaphors. It's a tradition as old as the game itself. We hear it every year: that baseball is summer, that baseball is childhood, that baseball is us. Metaphors like this make walking into Camden Yards a transcendent experience.  They make waiting in line to get a $13 sandwich and a $9 beer a sacrament to baseball, a reaffirmation of our love of our national pastime.

In every Jon Hamm monologue on ESPN, in every USA Today column, in every bar across the nation, these metaphors inevitably present an idealistic notions of American history, democracy, hope, and triumph. Nostalgic idealism may have its place, but the prevalence of these metaphors can cause us to ignore other, deeper insights to be found in the game of baseball. More specifically, I call to attention a lesson learned from baseball's cruelest and most ignominious statistic: the error.

Yes, the error can do more than explain why Ian Desmond is playing for pennies in the Texas outfield. The season's first error provides us with an annual argument against the fear of failure, and a reminder that all mistakes can be overcome.

We like to talk about the feelings that every player, from little league to the major leagues, has at the outset of every new season. Every new season brings a renewed sense of hope: it is a blank slate, with unlimited potential to fulfill dreams of glory. Yet we often purposefully ignore underlying emotion felt by anyone who has ever played the game, brewing just below that hopeful exterior: a gnawing anxiousness, a sense of dread, a fear of failure.

This is no different than everyday life, where every new opportunity carries with it the possibility of failure. But baseball provides us with the knowledge that every player will have to face this fear, and that, when they do, the result will be on display for all the world to see.

Thus, whenever a player commits his first error of the season, it is a moment poetic beauty. The crowd is brought to feel the full range of his emotions: his embarrassment and panic, the way that nagging fear abruptly replaces confidence the moment that the play goes awry. The crowd feels with him those panic-stricken moments of fear, anger, and embarrassment as the broken play is completed.  We see his increasing frustration as the inning continues, we watch his face contort with a furious hope that his mistake will not let his team down. And finally, we feel his overwhelming sense of relief as the inning and the game finally end, the damage he has caused being finally isolated, its power over him destroyed.

It is a miniature drama, an inner battle waged and won in instant, before the eyes of the masses. A single mistake has taught the player and the crowd, together, a shared lesson. They are reminded that mistakes are inevitable, but that all mistakes can be overcome. The player may have erred, but the effects of his mistakes are finite, and he has outlasted them.

In American sports, winning is too often portrayed as the only acceptable result, and losing, the ultimate disgrace. Football players, especially, seem to struggle with failure. They treat a loss as the greatest of indignities, and those who react positively (or ambivalently) as lesser competitors. It is often an immature practice, and one baseball has little time for.

Through the season's first error, Opening Day teaches us that it's okay to lose, and it's okay to fail. There will be another play, another inning, another game. For players on this day, it is not winning that is most important, but the willingness to continue to work, to overcome adversity and do one's best every day. Baseball is not just about wins or home runs. It's about a willingness to persevere through mistakes and indignities; not dwell on one lost opportunity, but on making the best of those still to come. On Opening Day, baseball rejects the fear of failure. And so should we.

KoshienSenpai is a licensed attorney and typically writes about patent and trademark issues. He is University of Maryland alum and a lifelong Orioles fan.

The stories presented as part of the 2016 Camden Chat Opening Day Marathon are written by members of our community. To add your voice to the site please consider writing a FanPost.