April 4, 2004
For more years than most can remember it started in mid-April on a Tuesday in Cincinnati. Because they were the first organized, professional baseball team, the Reds drew opening day honors, with the rest of the National and American League following the next day. It was as much a part of the rites of spring as the budding of the leaves or the birds returning from their southern vacation.
Like so many other traditions of the game, opening day in southern Ohio has been cast aside by the demands of television and perhaps a little international diplomacy. In 2004 the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays opened the season half a world from the Yankee Stadium in Tokyo, Japan.
Another tradition that fell by the way was the barnstorming tour up from the spring training camps in Florida. Teams would travel, often in pairs, playing in small towns and larger cities where major league baseball was only something to be read about in the sports pages each morning. In the late 1940s or early í50s my dad and grandfather closed up the law office and the lumberyard for the afternoon and went to Greenville to watch Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees take on a team of local all-stars. It was an opportunity not to be missed.
The first big league game I ever saw was between the New York Giants (Yes, Virginia, the Giants were in the Polo Grounds on Cooganís Bluff in those days) and the Cleveland Indians. The game, played on a sunny April afternoon at Burnett Field in Dallas, was a replay of the previous fallís World Series. The next year I saw the Red Sox and Pirates in the same location and got autographs from Vic Wertz and Pete Runnels.
And now, nine things you didnít know about opening day from ďThe Baseball Page.com.Ē
1. Ted Williamsí first hit, a double came on April 18, opening day, 1939. The game against the Yankees was Williamsí first. It was Lou Gehrigís last opening day. The Iron Horse would play only seven more games before stepping down. It was the only time the two played in the same game.
2. April 19, 1960 was Roger Marisí first opening day in pinstripes. He went 4 for 5 with two home runs and four RBIs in a 8-4 Yankee win over the Red Sox in Fenway Park.
3. Bob Feller pitched the only opening day no hitter on April 16, 1940, in Chicagoís Comisky Park against the White Sox. Herb Pennock had come within one out of accomplishing the feat 30 years earlier. A ninth inning single by Bostonís Harry Hooper spoiled the Philadelphia Athletics pitcherís shot at immortality.
4. The first opening day game played under the lights was in St. Louis in 1950. The Cardinals beat the Pirates 4-2.
5. Robin Roberts started 12 straight opening games for the Phillies, and thatís the record for service with one team. Pitching for three different clubs, Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto, Jack Morris made 13 opening day starts in a row, and thatís a record, too. Overall, Tom Seaver holds the record. He had seven wins, two losses and seven no decisions in 16 first day outings with the Mets, Reds and White Sox.
6. Eight home runsóthatís how many Frank Robinson hit on opening day. He wore the colors of Cincinnati, Baltimore, California, and Cleveland while gathering in the record.
7. The record for consecutive opening day wins is nine. It is held jointly by the 1937-1945 St. Louis Browns and the 1975-1983 New York Mets.
8. The first president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day was William Howard Taft. It on April 14, 1910, and Walter Johnson of the Senators went on to shut out the Aís on one hit.
9. Mike ďThe Texas TornadoĒ Southerland opened the Bonham Little League season in 1956 by going 3 for 3 for the Southwest Pump Cardinals. The slugging outfielder had a single, a double and a triple. OK, it was two singles and a double, but one of them would have been a triple if I hadnít missed second base by about three feet. I made up that part about the tornado too.