Star Tribune staffers share their favorite Opening Day memories on what should have been the first day of the 2020 MLB season.
LaVelle E. Neal III, from April 14, 1981
I was a sophomore at Mendel Catholic High School. a five-block walk from our home on Chicago’s South Side. My love of baseball already was deeply ingrained. I collected baseball cards, read baseball books and stayed inside to watch games instead of hanging out with my friends.
I used to sneak a radio with an earplug into class, run the cord under my shirt and into my ear and listen to spring training games — and that was when I was in grade school.
My team was the White Sox. I thought the Cubs wore pajamas for uniforms and played in a Little League park. My favorite player was Dick Allen, who had the forearms of life and swung a 40-ounce bat. I had been following the team since 1972 when the ’81 home opener arrived.
But I was in school that day, and didn’t have my radio. Drat.
About 10:30 a.m., I was summoned to the office, which never happened because I was/am a nerd and never caused trouble. My father was sitting in the reception area. “There’s an emergency at home. Hurry up and grab your stuff,” he said. My mind raced with possibilities. Once in the car, I asked if the house was on fire, or had something happened to Mom.
Dad reached into his pocket and pulled out two tickets to the White Sox home opener. Boom.
Some quick background here. Carlton Fisk had just changed his Sox. Boston missed a deadline to mail his contract to him in time to be signed, and he was declared a free agent. Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn had purchased the White Sox from Bill Veeck and wanted to show they were serious. So they swooped in with a five-year contract offer Fisk could not turn down. And, on April 14, 1981, I was in the right-field bleachers when Fisk made his White Sox debut against Paul Molitor and the Milwaukee Brewers.
Milwaukee? Yes, I saw a fight in the stands that day. But I also saw Fisk clobber a grand slam off Pete Vuckovich in the fourth inning to propel my squad to a 9-3 victory.
A no-doubter for my most awesome Opening Day ever.
From Sunday sports editor Pete Steinert:
I went to my only Opening Day game on April 6, 1987, at venerable Tiger Stadium.
I was a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Michigan and played hooky to see the Tigers play the Yankees — thanks to an extra ticket my buddy Chip had.
I remember it was anything but baseball weather, and I remember we sat well up behind home plate.
Chip left his seat at some point and Larry Herndon came up to bat for the Tigers.
Now I had never come close to catching a foul ball, but lo and behold Herndon sent one straight toward our section, as if he were personally delivering this fan airmail in a crowd of over 51,000. This Rawlings had my name on it.
I played a lot of baseball growing up. I knew what to do.
And imagine the look on Chip’s face when he returned.
I wish I could say I caught the ball, but my hands betrayed me, and I dropped it on the fly. Someone down the row grabbed the carom.
Definitely score it an error.
The Yankees won 2-1 in 10 innings. Jack Morris pitched into the 10th (of course) and took the loss.
Sparky Anderson’s lineup that day included names like Darnell Coles, Terry Harper, Mike Heath and Orlando Mercado, but somehow they went on to win 98 games and face a surprise champion out of the West in the ALCS.
I’ll let Twins fans pick it up from there.
From college sports team leader, and former Twins beat writer, Joe Christensen:
March 31, 1998 — Padres at Reds, Cincinnati’s Cinergy Field
I was 24, a rookie Padres beat writer for the North County Times (Escondido, Calif.), sitting in the press box, one row behind the stogie chomping Hal McCoy, who was covering his 25th Opening Day for the Dayton Daily News. Back then, the first pitch of every MLB season came in Cincinnati, home of the oldest franchise. I just remember the pageantry in a city that treated that day like a holiday.
The Padres won 10-2 behind Kevin Brown, Ken Caminiti and Tony Gwynn. From there, it was on to St. Louis, where San Diego overcame Mark McGwire crushing home runs No. 3 and No. 4 (on his way to 70). Those were the first two stops on a magical ride for the Padres that went all the way to the World Series.
From digital sports editor, and former Twins beat writer, Howard Sinker:
Four Opening Days stand out for four different reasons, and then one more that won’t ever be topped.
1970: We were finally old enough to be pulled out of school. My friend Ricky’s father liberated us at noon to see the White Sox opener. Back then, you had hope, no matter how badly the previous season had gone. The White Sox had a rookie first baseman we were excited about. The excitement didn’t last long. The Twins won 12-0, Brant Alyea hit two home runs for Minnesota; Rod Carew had two hits. The young first baseman was released after hitting .188. The White Sox lost 106 games.
1971: We were old enough to skip school entirely and a bunch of us got to Wrigley Field before 8 a.m. to be at the front of the rush for general admission seats. Ferguson Jenkins started for the Cubs, Bob Gibson for the Cardinals. Both pitched complete games. Billy Williams homered in the 10th to give the Cubs a 2-1 victory. All three of them are Hall of Famers, and there were three others on the field that day. The game was over in 1 hour, 58 minutes (and that’s the only thing I had to look up).
1984: My first opener as a baseball writer covering the Twins. (I’d been ‘called up’ for the final weeks of the ’83 season but didn’t know if the change was permanent at the time.) Everyone is in a good mood on Opening Day. Even the players who don’t care for reporters are cheerful. Nobody’s given up a game-losing home run of struck out with the bases loaded. The team is undefeated. Maybe more than any other game I covered, I discovered the magic of baseball that day at the Metrodome.
2011: I missed the opener because I was in the midst of a two-month recovery from surgery for a foot infection. That day included a trip to the doctor (in a wheelchair) and my wife Julie going to the game with a friend. Watching on a too-small TV, I couldn’t focus on the game. There’s really no way to tell you how annoyed and unhappy I was; only that it reinforced why the beginning of the baseball season is such a big deal for me.
And the one that won’t be topped? That was in 2010. It wasn’t really the opener but it took place at Target Field. Julie and I got married that day — the first wedding at just-opened Target Field. We’d met at a playoff party, we’ve done every opener except for two together (one because of illness, one because of travel). The ceremony was on the plaza during a break in the rain, the reception was in the Metropolitan Club. Julie likes baseball almost as much as I do. (She’s still not over the Johan Santana trade.) Getting married there was perfect.
From Star Tribune copy desk jack-of-all-trades Ken Chia:
I’ve only been to one Opening Day game, and it wasn’t a Twins game. It came in college, when I went to what was the Milwaukee Brewers’ final home Opening Day as a member of the American League, coming against the Texas Rangers on April 7, 1997, a cold, windy but sunny Monday afternoon. That year, Major League Baseball had a promotion to hand souvenir baseballs to Opening Day fans; reportedly, 19 teams went along with it, and days earlier the True Value-sponsored balls had been thrown on the field in Kansas City, Houston and Texas.
That was nothing compared to what happened that day in Milwaukee, though. Three times, Texas had to pull its players off the field because of a shower of baseballs. The first delay came before the game even began. The next two came in the bottom of the second inning. After a few balls were thrown on the field with two runners on and one out for the Brewers, Rangers manager Johnny Oates waved his players to return to the dugout, a move that led to more balls being tossed and the Milwaukee baserunners and coaches similarly retreating. That resulted in a 14-minute delay to pick up the balls and implore fans over the PA system to cut it out.
Eventually, the players returned, and a single loaded the bases for catcher Mike Matheny, who crushed a 2-2 pitch from Ken Hill to left for a grand slam. This, not surprisingly, led to more balls raining onto the field, another departure from the field for the Rangers and boos from the fans. Umpire crew chief Jim McKean and Milwaukee manager Phil Garner both took a microphone to address the crowd, and a sign on the scoreboard warned that the Brewers risked a forfeit if the behavior continued.
That was the final delay in what was a 5-3 Milwaukee victory; McKean had apparently told Garner that another delay would have resulted in a forfeit. According to the AP, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department issued 112 citations at the ballpark that day, including 14 for throwing baseballs on the field. There were no reports of injuries, at least. Before the game had even ended, acting Commissioner/Brewers owner Bud Selig had told the other teams that had yet to hand out its souvenir baseballs to distribute them after the game.
As for me, I’m happy to report I still have my ball, and a lasting memory from the only Opening Day I have ever witnessed in person.