It’s been said that a ballplayer never forgets his first Opening Day. I would submit that neither does a fan. I got hooked on baseball during the eventful ’93 campaign, and so that off-season I got my first taste of our yearly withdrawal. (Symptoms included a half-hearted, short-lived interest in Star Wars and POGs.) As spring unfolded I learned the ritual: 1) eagerly await the day that pitchers and catchers report to rescue us from the wintery wilderness, 2) get bored with spring training and eagerly await its end, 3) as the teams finally head north, spend 1-2 days thinking about nothing other than baseball, 4) Opening Day! A good day to stay home from school or work, if at all possible, because like seven televised games provide an immensely satisfying 12-hour feast. I’m now stuck in Stage 3, Year 17, unable to focus my mind on anything Secular, so I thought I’d look back at that first Opening Day of my baseball life. Let’s hop in the DeLorean / WABAC Machine and set the dials for Monday, April 4, 1994.
Philadelphia (Schilling) @ Colorado (Reynoso) This is the game I actually remember. I can still see the thick blankets of snow streaming through the lights at Mile High Stadium, as Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn muse about the novel weirdness of high-elevation baseball. Andres Galarraga and Ellis Burks each launch one through the 26-mph winds to put the Rockies ahead. But the Phils plate seven unearned runs in the eighth to win 12-6. At this point, I am absolutely certain that they will repeat as NL Champs.
St. Louis (Cormier) @ Cincinnati (Smiley) Not really the opener for these clubs; Joe Torre’s Cards won 6-4 the previous night, as Ray Lankford homered leading off the season. On this day, Kevin Mitchell’s 10th-inning walk-off shot into the third deck at Riverfront wins it for the Red Stockings, 5-4.
New York (Gooden) @ Chicago (Morgan) Ah, the Tuffy Rhodes game! The Cubs’ center fielder cranks 3 of his 13 career dingers on this chilly afternoon, but the Mets win a wild one 12-8. Two all-time great second basemen square off – Ryne Sandberg picks up two hits, but Jeff Kent outdoes him with four, including a homer. First Lady (and Cub fan) Hillary Clinton leads the crowd in “Take me out to the Ballgame.”
Montreal (Fassero) @ Houston (Harnisch) The most exciting National League game of the day. A four-bagger by Bagwell, with Biggio on second, kicks off his MVP campaign. It’s tied 3-3 into the 12th, when Mitch Williams issues back-to-back bases loaded walks in his first appearance since the infamous World Series. But a Bagwell RBI single in the bottom half sets the stage for Ken Caminiti’s 2-run double, and the Astros’ post-rainbow-uniform era begins with a victory. The Expos will recover and rack up the most wins in all of baseball.
Atlanta (Maddux) @ San Diego (Benes) The defending NL West champs, now in the East, get 8 shutout innings from the incomparable Maddux to win it 4-1. Tony Gwynn goes 1-for-2 on the way to a .394 season. “Neon” Deion Sanders and Ryan Klesko each hit a long ball. Chicks dig it.
Pittsburgh (Smith) @ San Francisco (Burkett) Barry Bonds goes 1-for-2 with 2 walks against his former mates, and the Giants win 8-0. Matt Williams hits homeruns #1 and 2 to put him fifteen games ahead of Maris’s pace, a comparison that will last all summer.
Seattle (Johnson) @ Cleveland (Martinez) President Clinton throws out the first ball at the brand-new Jacobs Field. “Are we in our ballpark or on the road?” Carlos Baerga wonders, “I can’t believe this.” Seattle’s Eric Anthony hits the first big fly. The Big Unit takes a 2-0 lead, and a no-hitter, into the 8th when rookie Manny Ramirez ropes a 2-run double off Mr. Snappy to tie it. But Manny is picked off second, and when he reaches again in the 10th Wayne Kirby pinch runs for him. As the gods will it, it’s Kirby who delivers the 11th-inning hit that brings home Eddie Murray, and a dynasty is born.
Texas (Brown) @ New York (Key) After some very miserable years, there is excitement in the air at Yankee Stadium as “the greatest living ballplayer” Joltin’ Joe throws out the first pitch. Danny Tartabull and Mike Stanley provide the thunder, Wade Boggs chips in four singles, Bob Wickman comes in to put out a fire, and the Bombers hang on 5-3. Paul O’Neill rips two hits on the way to the AL batting crown and Key picks up the first of his league-leading 17 victories. Will Clark strokes a pair of doubles in his first game as a Ranger.
Chicago (McDowell) @ Toronto (Guzman) The Blue Jays receive their world championship rings before this ALCS rematch at SkyDome. Reigning Cy Young winner Black Jack McDowell is cruising into the 7th with a 2-1 lead when Roberto Alomar tags him for a 2-out, 3-run bomb. Back-to-back jacks by Carlos Delgado (first of his career) and Ed Sprague in the 8th ice it.
Detroit (Moore) @ Boston (Clemens) An entertaining back-and-forth affair at the Fens. The Sox take an early lead thanks, in large part, to a booming roundtripper and double by 39-year old Andre Dawson. But the Tigers roar back against the Rocket and Paul Quantrill to take an 8-6 lead into the 8th. But wait! Billy Hatcher ties it with a 2-run ground-rule double, then Otis Nixon speeds home on a passed ball by Mickey Tettleton. Jeff Russell slams the door by retiring Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell with the tying run aboard in the 9th.
Kansas City (Appier) @ Baltimore (Mussina) Royals manager Hal McRae bypasses eventual Cy Young winner David Cone for the nod, and pays for it as Mike Devereaux and the Birds get to Appier. Moose goes 8 innings, allowing just 2 hits, in his first of a club-record (tied with Jim Palmer) six Opening Day starts. Rookie of the Year Bob Hamelin’s RBI single in the 9th brings on Lee Smith, who throws just two pitches in extending his all-time saves record to 402 in the 6-3 Oriole win.
Six Teams Opened on Tuesday, April 5:
Florida (Hough) @ Los Angeles (Hershiser) At 46, Hough becomes the oldest Opening Day starter since Jack Quinn for the 1931 Brooklyn Robins. He first came up with Walter Alston’s Dodgers; now against Tommy Lasorda’s team he pitches well, but the Marlins’ bullpen blows the lead late. Pinch hitter Jeff Treadway’s sac fly brings home pinch runner Mitch Webster for a 4-3 LA victory. Before the game, Darryl Strawberry goes on the DL and checks into the Betty Ford Center, opening a spot in right field for Rookie of the Year Raul Mondesi.
Oakland (Witt) @ Milwaukee (Eldred) A cold, wet day at County Stadium is made less miserable by the Brew Crew’s come-from-behind win. The A’s put up a 5-spot in the first, capped by a grand salami off the bat of Terry Steinbach. But Milwaukee chips away, led by the bottom of their order (Dave Nilsson, Jody Reed, Bill Spiers, and Alex Diaz), to win it 11-7.
California (Langston) @ Minnesota (Tapani) The Angels take a 6-0 lead in the 2nd and cruise to an 8-2 final. Jim Edmonds, on his first Opening Day, comes in to replace Bo Jackson in left field. Kent Hrbek, in his last opener, goes 1-for-3. Dave Winfield adds his 454th career tater.
After his traditional first pitch in Cleveland, the President fielded questions from the media about the escalating conflict in Bosnia. The assassination of Rwanda’s president ignited mass genocide there. And it was on one of these days that Kurt Cobain shot himself at his home in Seattle, although his body was not discovered until later in the week. Some things apparently never change – like healthcare reform debates, violence in Iraq, and threats from North Korea. In 1994 I was blissfully detached from these faraway tragedies in a way that only a child can be. Now I can only experience that unflappable serenity on this one special day each year. Although Opening Day is just the first of 180-some days in the baseball season, this day is different from all others. Its games seem more significant because of the way they draw us in so completely. They become our entire sunshiney universe for this one day, making us believe that every little thing really is alright.