I remember the year I needed a note to go to Opening Day.
It was 1995, and I was 12. I had never been to Opening Day before, and I really wanted to go. I had just lived the last eight and a half months without baseball, and I vividly remember my mom telling me on the morning of August 12, 1994 that baseball was going on strike. While at the time, I didn’t understand the financial implications of the labor battles, I knew that my life would be without baseball for an excruciatingly long period of time.
When April 1995 rolled around and the MLBPA and owners announced a strike settlement, I spent days lobbying my parents. “Please can we go to Opening Day?” I’d ask numerous times a day. Finally, as the delayed Opening Day crept closer and closer, my parents told me that yes, we could go to Opening Day.
April 26 — Opening Day 1995 — was a Wednesday, and my sixth grade class had plans to go see our high school’s dress rehearsal for Anything Goes, the annual musical. I would have to leave the production toward the end, and for that, I needed a note. Dressed in full Yankee regalia in honor of Opening Day, I snuck out of school early that day as my dad took me and my sister, then 7, to our first Opening Day game.
The game was a blast. The crowd of 50,425, still sore at the players for their eight-month walk-out and the owners for canceling the 1994 World Series that could have seen the Yanks face off against a very potent Montreal Expos team, was rowdy from the get-go. That day would be only the day until the ALDS that the Yanks would break the 50,000+ attendance mark. Those were the days.
The game itself lived up to all my Opening Day expectations. I witnessed the pomp and circumstance of Bob Sheppard, then a sprightly 84, announcing the lineup. There was Buck Showalter in his trademark jacket. Wade Boggs, Jim Leyritz, Paul O’Neill, Danny Tartabull, Don Mattingly, Mike Stanley, Bernie Williams, Tony Fernandez and Pat Kelly lined up along the first base line while Jimmy Key warmed up in the bullpen. As the National Anthem began, all was right in my world.
The Yanks won that day, 8-6. Tartabull homered in the second inning to deep left-center, and the Yanks never looked back. Jimmy Key went 5 innings, giving up 3 runs on 7 hits, but Kenny Rogers was worse. For the Rangers, he threw 3 innings and gave up 4 earned runs before Johnny Oates yanked him from the game. Bernie hit a home run; Pat Kelly went 3 for 4; and John Wetteland threw a perfect ninth for the save.
Since that day, I’ve been to a few more Opening Days. In 2002, still recovering from that heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, I trekked down from college outside of Philadelphia to Baltimore to catch the Yankees and Roger Clemens lose badly to the Orioles.
Last season, my first full baseball season back in New York after four years of college and ten months spent living in Washington, DC, I sat in the left field bleachers as Carl Pavano became the most infamous Yankee Opening Day starter of all time. When Alex Rodriguez’s 8th inning home run to left center cleared the fence, little did I know that a historic MVP season would unfold in front of New York only to cumulate in a dramatic opt-out during the final outs of the World Series and a subsequent reconciliation. The Yanks won that one, beating Scott Kazmir and the Devil Rays 9-5.
So here we are again. It’s Opening Day 2008, and the baseball slate is wiped clean. We have a glorious schedule of 162 games ahead of us. We have summer nights at a jam-packed Yankee Stadium and tense late-season games in Fenway Park. We have full seasons from the much-heralded young guns, a swan song for a baseball Cathedral and a July filled with an All Star spectacle.
This is Opening Day, and this is what makes baseball great.