A field of questions for Opening Day

Vast fields of giant redwoods have been sacrificed to the cause of properly genuflecting to the glories of baseball on the occasion of that annual rite of spring, Opening Day.

ESPN guru Peter Gammons -- surely no stranger to over-statement -- calls it “heaven.” The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell, Gammons’ archrival in the thin ranks of baseball’s alleged intelligentsia, once wrote a book which he titled, ‘‘Why Time Begins on Opening Day.’’ Sensing the explanation would be neither useful nor plausible, I never did manage to get beyond the title page.

But then hyperbole goes with the territory. All the self-appointed high priests of baseball punditry drift into the exalting of the banal, now and again; a fondness for exaggeration being the ticket of admission to their little chowder society. There’s no harm in hyperbole except when the user forgets his flights of fancy were supposed be in jest.

All of this ragtime comes to mind as the beginning of a new season brings with it an utter torrent of analysis, calculation, and prophecy. All of which also goes with the territory nowadays; ‘‘experts’’ being a dime a dozen.

But name a one of them who predicted last year that the Cardinals would win it all, or that the Tigers would be runners up, or that neither the Red Sox nor the White Sox would even make the playoffs, or that the batting champs would be kids named Freddie Sanchez and Joe Mauer, or that a gawky fellow from Taiwan would win 19 games for the Yankees, or that Hanley Ramirez would be the NL Rookie of the Year while Josh Beckett was finishing with an ERA of over five.

The true joy of baseball is that it’s the least predictable of all our games, making the term “baseball expert” something of a de facto oxymoron. On the other hand that’s what gives credence to the illusions so many share on Opening Day. Often the illusion persists at least until Mother’s Day.

Clearly, we have no predictions to offer other than the reasonably safe assumption that the agitation between the Red Sox and the Yankees will keep the get-a-lifers of Red Sox Nation safely off the street-corners until October. There may be little that is truly ‘‘heavenly’’ about baseball but its mindless little distractions do render a service to the common weal.

Look elsewhere for prophecy. But we can offer some questions. The season opens rife with doubt on many fronts. Here are a few things that have me wondering.

The Barry Bonds dilemma

He’s not going to go away. He’s shameless and driven. And preseason appearances suggest he may even be healthy again. It’s not nice to wish injury on a man but MLB moguls -- up to and including the commissioner -- can hardly be blamed if they are tempted. He needs 22 more dingers to surpass Hank Aaron and he’s going to do it, possibly by late June.

With Bonds, denying him his greatness has become as pointless as trying to fathom what makes him tick. His historical moment will be one giant paradoxical headache for the game he transcends. Who would trade places with Bud Selig on that occasion?

The Steroid inquiry

Like the Parisian detective who hounded Jean Valjean, Judge Mitchell vows to track down every vestige of drug abuse in the game. He promises a full report by the end of the season. If he succeeds in piercing the cover-up, he could ruin a lot of lives and still not begin to bag all the offenders. Should justice be so arbitrary and selective? Nonetheless, his buddies in Congress are urging him on.

The question persists, “Why?” Has Congress nothing better to do? Has not the point been made? Isn’t it more important to make sure that a new order of strict and airtight substance control guarantees that it can never happen again? Most important, when will they recognize the terribly unfair double standard that holds baseball’s feet to the fire while allowing football to take a casual and guiltless walk? I know a lot of Congresspersons get freebies from the Redskins but is there no limit to hypocrisy?

The steroid inquiry could turn the ‘‘heavenly’’ prospects of another baseball season into a hellish nightmare at any moment.

The Clemens Sweepstakes

His game within the game has become preposterous. Last season he played three and a half months and earned $2.3 million per win. He’ll be 45 in August. Yet such is the deterioration of pitching and the desperation of the contenders that they will gleefully make fools of themselves when -- like some breathless ingénue -- he coyly hints that his ample charms may, once again, be up for sale. And to think so many smart Bostonians once devoutly believed this guy was a dumb Texan.

One of these years Athens or Sparta is going to give him $16 million to play for 14 weeks and he’s going to finish 0-7 with an ERA over 10. Could this be the year? We live in hope.

The Japanese Invasion

Their manner and style and all-round class make them a breath of fresh air in a game that needed one. In New York, Hideki Matsui has become the modern definition of the perfect player in terms of attitude, commitment and deportment. In their early behavior, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa strongly suggest they may be kindred spirits.

Is there remotely the chance that the Yank’s Igawa will prove to be as good an investment as Matsuzaka, at least proportionally in terms of bucks? Now wouldn’t that be amusing. The further good news is that the ‘‘invasion’’ has only just begun.

Gotham Melodrama

Most of the little tempests that spice up Yankee baseball are foolishness; the agonies of A-Rod as they are being feverishly stirred by the banshees of tabloid journalism amount to Exhibit A. But the late-blooming crisis in the House of Steinbrenner is another matter.

Divorce, a touch of scandal, and rampant uncertainty have shaken the pin-stripped hierarchy. Time is not on George’s side and we have lately seen ample evidence that the clock is moving fast and he recognizes that harsh fact. This is the industry’s ultimate blue chip franchise. When the Yankees sneeze, the kingdom of baseball gets the shakes.

How this evolves is about to become a huge story, one senses. And if it de-stabilizes the monolith in the Bronx -- as increasingly becomes a possibility -- it may have more of a bearing on Red Sox fortunes than a half dozen Matsuzaka signings. Stay tuned.

The Jonathan Papelbon mystery

The knights of the keyboard, who are mainly in the tank, are taking a pass on this issue. After all, we don’t want to offend management by jamming their own words down their throat. But in my book it’s the most intriguing question about this Red Sox season. Will this remarkably talented and interesting young fellow hold up physically with his return to the bullpen? And if he doesn’t, how will the pious autocrats in the front office spin it?

In October we are emphatically told the health and longterm prospects of the player DEMAND that he give up relief pitching, with its daily stresses, and become a starting pitcher, with its more programmed regimen. Medical opinion is offered supporting the claim that if Papelbon continues to pitch in relief he could gravely jeopardize his future. In March, before he’s thrown another pitch in anger, he returns to the closer’s role, although nothing about his medical profile has changed. It resolves an acute team crisis yet we’re asked to believe the decision is entirely the kid’s. Even those who are not yet hardened cynics recognize this is poppycock.

The boys in the front office better hope Papelbon lasts as long as Mariano Rivera. But if he breaks down again in August they better be ready for some hard ball. Not even the knights in the tank will be able to take a pass on that one.

Questions! That is what Opening Day is about. Many, many questions. Heaven can wait.

Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...