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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Opening Days in another universe —  the day many celebrate is just a dream now

Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws during a

Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws during a spring training game against the Tigers on Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Lakeland, Fla. Credit: AP/Carlos Osorio

Opening Day? This year, it’s just a Thursday.

And we were all supposed to be someplace else.

Maybe you were going to be taking the 7 or the LIRR to Citi Field, stopping for that annual photo in front of the Home Run Apple, dropping by to see old friends at a tailgate not far from the plaque for Shea’s home plate.

And to see Jacob deGrom vs. Stephen Strasburg? The Mets hosting the world champion Nationals? Wow.

Or perhaps it was an Amtrak Acela pilgrimage down to Baltimore, grabbing a Natty Bo outside Camden Yards, anxiously chatting up your buddies about Gerrit Cole’s debut, taking bets on his punch out total vs. the hapless Orioles.

Yes, Cole really was a Yankee. The final piece of the puzzle. Almost too good to be true.

Me? I was going to be taking a sunny half-hour walk from my Inner Harbor hotel, iced coffee in hand, laptop slung over my back, lost in happy thoughts about new beginnings and what the 2020 season held in store for all of us.

Cole awaited. As did Gleyber Torres, and DJ LeMahieu, and Gary Sanchez, and Brett Gardner. What lineup would manager Aaron Boone post by the clubhouse door?

Those first few giddy steps of a thrilling seven-month journey. We couldn’t wait to take them. Opening Day. A scorebook filled with blank pages. Everyone atop the standings. The possibilities were limitless.

And now? It exists only as a dream. All we have are memories to draw from, the shared joyful experiences of Opening Days past. The wins were monumental. The losses, though overblown, couldn’t ruin the unmatched sensation of  being back in a ballpark again after a long winter.

On this Opening Day, however, we’re not sure where to go from here. There is no place to go. We’re all under quarantine — except for our everyday heroes: the first responders, the health care workers, the shelf-stockers, the cashiers and the MTA workers, to single out a few.

Do we dare to even play Opening Day in our mind’s eye? To picture deGrom kicking off his potential Cy three-peat in dominant fashion, with Pete Alonso going deep, of course, and yes, Edwin Diaz closing it out to a thunderous Citi ovation. Or Torres tormenting the O’s again by homering at his favorite launching pad, and Gio Urshela flashing leather at third, all to back up Cole’s first victory — an Opening Day win that instantly validates his $324 million deal.

Man, did we take all that for granted. Our lives have been such a frenetic blur since mid-March, when MLB suspended spring training and postponed the start of the regular season, that we don’t even know what day of the week it is anymore.

Just add Opening Day to the sad pile of things we need to brush aside for a while. We just don’t have the bandwidth at the moment to process the baseball side of all this. And the people who play these games, who were so looking forward to Opening Day — just like you — have had their lives flipped over, too.

“It’s all been weird and an adjustment,” Boone said Wednesday. “Just the selfish thing, in my personal bubble of a world, there’s the frustration that you get so close to Opening Day, and the start of the season, and it’s not here — so all the work that goes into that, it’s disappointing. But you also temper it with this is all bigger than me, and us in baseball, and right now is the time to kind of do our part.”

Instead of watching Cole pitch on Opening Day, Boone mentioned that he planned to play some backyard catch with his ace, who also happens to be his Greenwich (Connecticut) neighbor. The same Citi Field parking lot that once hosted those Opening Day tailgates soon could be used as a drive-through COVID-19 testing area after the Mets gave NYC officials the green light earlier this week.

This Opening Day is going to be vastly different from any other in our lifetimes, and we don’t even want to consider the gloomy scenario of it never happening. Despite MLB's discussions of numerous contingency plans to play at least some games, nobody can tell us with any degree of certainty that baseball will return this season. There is talk of stacking the schedule with doubleheaders and hosting playoff games well beyond October at neutral sites. Agent Scott Boras went as far as to suggest to the L.A. Times that a World Series Game 7 could be played on Dec. 26.

“It’s probably an opportunity to try some things that you wouldn’t otherwise,” Boone said.

Hopefully baseball gets that chance. Because that will mean a global pandemic finally has been contained, our lives have returned to some semblance of normalcy, and a nation can begin to heal.

When that time comes, it will be an Opening Day to remember.

New York Sports