Opening Day is one game, at one place and at the Sanctuary City of Baseball on the banks of the Ohio River.
To Reds fans and the City of Cincinnati, Opening Day is close to sacred. This is nothing new to readers of this web site or to Reds fans in general.
29 other major league teams celebrate Opening Day but no one does it better and no where does it means more than Cincinnati. It’s more than a parade, more than the banners and not just because the Reds are the oldest professional baseball franchise.
The best way to describe Opening Day in Cincinnati is to say that all is right with the world. Opening Day is a celebration, or better yet, a state of mind. Other teams are on the road for a week or so to start the season and try to make their Ã¢â‚¬Å“Opening DayÃ¢â‚¬Â splashy and special. It can’t be done. At least not the way it’s done in Cincinnati.
The Lords of Baseball have chipped away at this tradition over the years. Sunday Night Baseball now is the first game of the season. Other teams start on Opening Day before the Reds starter makes his first pitch. Other teams have opened in overseas venues. This is an elaborate ruse, a gimmick.
Opening Day in Cincinnati is special and unique. And in Reds history it has happened at Crosley Field, Riverfront Stadium and now Great American Ballpark. Labor strife has, at times, delayed it. Five times, the Reds have celebrated a World Series championship from the year before. Tragedy has occurred, such as when home plate umpire John McSherry collapsed and died during the Opener in 1996.
Two years before he passed away, Reds outfielder Eddie Milner and I spoke about Opening Day in 1984. Milner came a few inches from smacking two home runs that day, but Mets rightfielder Daryl Strawberry robbed him of that second home run with a leaping catch at the rightfield wall. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Two home runs on Opening Day,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Milner. Ã¢â‚¬Å“How special would that have been?Ã¢â‚¬Â
It was special for older generations of Reds fans to hear Waite Hoyt’s voice on WLW for Opening Day when he was a Reds broadcaster. The same goes for Joe Nuxhall, who was beloved by Reds fans.
And it was always a thrill to see your favorite Reds player take the field on Opening Day. Pick who you want. Frank Robinson, Big Klu, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Barry Larkin, Pete Rose or Joey Votto.
Some Opening Days have been brutal on the field. Pokey Reese’s four errors in 1998, Jimmy Haynes starting the first season opener at Great American Ballpark in 2002 (and losing 10-1). A tie in Junior’s first Opener in 2000.
But others are memorable.
Here are my top five:
Opening Day resembled a pennant race in September. It featured the two teams with the best record in baseball the year before (NL West rivals Los Angeles and Cincinnati), an incredible ensemble of all-stars and Opening Day. Don Gullett and Don Sutton hooked up in a pitchers duel, LA closer Mike Marshall pitched five scoreless innings (did Aroldis ever do that?) and in the end, a George Foster scratch single scored Cesar Geronimo with the winning run in the 14th inning for a 2-1 win. The Reds went on to sweep the series and Tony Perez said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“They can’t think they’re better than us.Ã¢â‚¬Â Cincinnati went on to win the World Series that season after Sparky Anderson made The Switch with Pete Rose to third base.
Ramon Hernandez’ three-run walk-off homer finished a comeback by the Reds over their rivals from St. Louis. This, coming off the heels of the 2010 AL Central title, produced near pandemonium in Cincinnati to start the season off. The Reds scored four runs in the 9th. After loading the bases, Jonny Gomes got a run in with a sacrifice fly; Hernandez homered to finish the game after that. The Reds catcher had four hits on the day. Joey Votto had two walks and two RBI;s. Logan Ondrusek got the victory.
Opening Day wins give a glimmer of hope and Reds fans had it after this 7-6 dramatic win over the Mets. Losing 6-4 in the 9th, Austin Kearns singled. Adam Dunn homered to tie the game. And then little known third baseman Joe Randa launched a game winning home run. It was the first walk off homer in the history of Great American Ballpark on Opening Day. The three-run rally gave Danny Graves the win. Dunn knocked in five of the Reds seven runs.
Tom Seaver was the ace of the Reds staff and he was prepping for his 13th consecutive Opening Day start with both the Mets and Reds in 1980. Unfortunately, Tom Terrific got sick the night before the game. At 10am the morning of Opening Day, Frank Pastore found out he was substituting for Seaver. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gimme the ball,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Pastore.
He got it. Two hours and 96 pitches later, Pastore hurled a 9-0 shutout for Cincinnati against the San Diego Padres. He allowed just three hits, struck out five and walked three. Pastore got offensive support from George Foster (home run, double, four RBI’s) and Junior Kennedy (three RBI’s).
This Opener capsuled the 1960s Reds. Jim O’Toole hurled a complete game 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Frank Robinson homered. Leo Cardenas drove in a pair of runs. Vada Pinson doubled and walked. Gordy Coleman smacked a home run. It was the debut of Pete Rose. And Fred Hutchinson was the manager. And it didn’t hurt that the Pittsburgh rightfielder was Roberto Clemente, one of the greatest baseball players I ever saw on the field.