Examining Opening Day history
From Feller's no-hitter to the Babe's christening clout
Another Opening Day, another season of The Show ...From Broadway to Sunset Boulevard, and all thoroughfares in between, fervor for the baseball season builds at a pennant fever pitch. We look forward to athletic dancers on nature's green carpet with the same anticipation as to warmer days and gentler breezes, when we shed our mittens and the players don their mitts. Opening Day is a wonderful thing to look forward to.
And often, it becomes a day to look back on with wonder. A day that kindles those where-were-you memories that bond generations and families, a day when the seeds of individual and team greatness were planted, a day when our hopes and those of our heroes converged and both seemed boundless.A day unlike any other, anywhere. Snapshots of top landmarks on the road map to home -- opener memories, from east to west ... Red Sox, 2005: They hand out the rings and hoist a World Series championship flag 86 years in the waiting -- and all the Yankees can do is watch from the third-base dugout. When the game starts, the festivities don't stop -- the Sox win, 8-1, behind Tim Wakefield. Yankees, 1923: The Babe built it, so naturally he becomes the first to clear it, as Babe Ruth hits the first home run out of Yankee Stadium to help the Bombers unveil their new house by treating 74,200 guests to a 4-1 win over the Red Sox. Mets, 1968: A team without a past finally gains a future. The Mets had never won an opener, home or otherwise, while averaging 100-plus losses since their 1962 birth, until Jerry Koosman blanks the Giants, 3-0, on a seven-hitter in front of 52,079 at Shea. Next year, they win the World Series. Phillies, 1950: Robin Roberts' complete-game 9-1 victory in Shibe Park over the Brooklyn Dodgers is the start of two magical rides. The Philadelphia Whiz Kids will go on to cop their first National League pennant in 36 years, and this is the first of Roberts' 12 consecutive Opening Day starts. Nationals, 2008: Nationals Park is inaugurated in capitol style, as 39,389 whoop it up when Ryan Zimmerman lines a home run with two outs in the ninth for a 3-2 triumph over the Braves. Orioles, 1982: Third-base coach Cal Ripken's kid makes his first Opening Day lineup, at third base, and Cal Ripken Jr.'s 3-for-5 includes a home run in a 13-5 victory over Kansas City. Pirates, 1965: With its expansive outfield and vast alleys, double shutouts were a rarity in Forbes Field, but Bob Veale and the Giants' Juan Marichal snub history by taking a 0-0 duel into extra innings before Bob Bailey leads off the bottom of the 10th with a home run. Veale retires the last 19 men he faces, seven of them on strikes. Blue Jays, 1977: Doug Ault smacks two home runs to pace a 9-5 triumph over the White Sox in the franchise's first game, and you'll rarely see the Jays blue on any ensuing Opening Day; their 25-8 record is the Majors' best winning percentage in openers. Marlins, 1993: Baseball's traditional warmup act gets the main stage as Jeff Conine goes 4-for-4 and Charlie Hough knuckles down to beat the Dodgers, 6-3, in the state of Florida's inaugural Major League game. Rays, 2003: Lou Piniella comes home to give the hometown team some serious credibility and receives quite a homecoming present, as Carl Crawford's three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth stuns the Red Sox, 6-4. Braves, 1966: A 3-2 loss in 13 innings to the Pirates can't take the gloss off the transplanted team's first game in Atlanta, which features five Hall of Famers (Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski) and two Alou brothers batting leadoff (Felipe for the Braves and Matty for the Bucs). Reds, 2006: The Major Leagues' charter team has had well over a century-plus of Opening Days and the ritual of presidential first pitches is almost as old, but the two traditions do not converge until George W. Bush becomes the first sitting president to make the ceremonial toss in Cincinnati, doubtless one of the best hometown deliveries of the day at Great American Ball Park as the Reds lose to the Pirates, 10-1. Indians, 1940: Bob Feller no-hits the White Sox, and 70 years later, it remains the one and only Opening Day gem. In a way, so does Bullet Bob himself, who still waxes poetically about what makes the day so special: "The snow is melted and the birds are chirping and the kids are playing outside." Tigers, 1984: 51,238 in Tiger Stadium don't have to wait long for their first-person look at the joyride, as Darrell Evans' first-inning three-run homer off Dave Stewart triggers a 5-1 win over Texas -- the Tigers' sixth straight on the way to a 9-0 start and a 35-5 record by late-May of their World Series championship season. Cubs, 1971: Ferguson Jenkins vs. Bob Gibson, and when two Hall of Fame right-handers take the mound, they stay on it until the game ends. And this one does with one out in the bottom of the 10th when another Cooperstown resident, Billy Williams, pulls one through the in-blowing wind and sprints down the line screaming, "Get up! Get up!" It gets up and out, for a 2-1 win over the Cardinals, "a beautiful sight, a beautiful feeling," Williams recalls. White Sox, 2005: Did someone say, setting a tone? Mark Buehrle outduels the Indians' Jake Westbrook in the first game, 1-0. "Hopefully, it's a sign of things to come," says Aaron Rowand, and little does he know. They will win the second-half's first game, 1-0 (again over the Indians) and the final game of the World Series, 1-0 (over the Astros). Brewers, 1978: An 11-3 romp over the Orioles in County Stadium is highlighted by a seventh-inning grand slam by Sixto Lezcano, who two years later, will do it again -- becoming the only player to ever hit two Opening Day grand slams, out of his career total of three. Cardinals, 1967: Curtain up! Both for Bob Gibson, who blanks the Giants and fellow Hall of Fame right-hander Juan Marichal, 6-0, for one of his 26 shutouts in a four-year span, and for his team, which will go on to bag the World Series. Royals, 1969: The first batter in the expansion team's history, Lou Piniella, drills a double to ignite a 4-for-5 day, and the finish is equally thrilling as Joe Keough delivers a walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th for a 4-3 victory over the Twins in Municipal Stadium. Twins, 1982: Yes, there was a time when the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was new, and the Twins come in from the cold to drop the inaugural to the Mariners, 11-7. The park gains an instant nickname -- the Homerdome -- as the game is spiced by five home runs between the two teams. Astros, 1962: Then known as the Colt 45s, the expansionists hit the ground running and with Roman Mejias' bat blazing (two homers, six RBIs) as the NL's newborn upend one of its eldest, the Cubs, 11-2 in tiny Colt Stadium. Rangers, 1996: Right-hander Ken Hill, the Rangers' big offseason free-agent acquisition, bests Boston's Roger Clemens, 5-3, launching a season-starting seven-game winning streak that leads to the club's first division title. Rockies, 2005: Clint Barmes beats the Padres, 12-10, with a two-run walk-off homer off Trevor Hoffman and rounds first base thinking, "I cannot believe that I just did that. Very, very surreal." Today he still says, "That would be tough to beat for the best moment of my career." D-backs, 2002: A banner day, indeed, as the raucous unveiling of the 2001 World Series championship pennant is followed by a six-hit, 2-0 shutout of the Padres by one of the leading architects of the title. Randy Johnson's 127th and penultimate pitch of the complete game is clocked at 101 mph. Giants, 1958: Ruben Gomez's six-hitter in Seals Stadium beats Don Drysdale, 8-0, as the Giants and the Dodgers open a season and a new Major League frontier. Orlando Cepeda, who homers to support Gomez, considers the whole West Coast experience otherworldly: "From the night before, to after the ballgame, I thought I was dreaming." A's, 1972: Gene Tenace's little grounder in the bottom of the 11th breaks up the 4-3 victory over the Twins in the start of something big. The first of the A's three straight World Series titles? Well, yeah, but of greater importance is that mustache above Reggie Jackson's upper lip, which will move owner Charlie Finley to pay rewards for his entire team to grow facial hair, which they do, sparking baseball's hirsute revolution. Angels, 1973: The Express pulls into his first Opening Day station and begins to put a downtrodden franchise on the fast track, as Nolan Ryan tames the Royals, 3-2, with a complete-game six-hitter and the first 12 of his 383 strikeouts. Dodgers, 1947: There is baseball history, then there is human history. First baseman Jackie Robinson's swing topples the color barrier and helps Brooklyn's Bums to a 5-3 victory over the Braves in Ebbets Field. Padres, 1999: It's primera jornada as the Rockies win, 8-2, in Monterrey's Estadio de Beisbol in the first MLB opener on foreign soil, opening a global frontier that is still expanding. Mariners, 1986: Not even Elvis had a comparable exit strategy, as the Mariners own Presley (Jim) leaves the building (the Kingdome) twice, with a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, and a grand slam in the bottom of the 10th for an 8-4 victory over the Angels.