Those were the (opening) days: No live baseball, but memories abound

No game today.

On what was supposed to be opening day all around the majors, ballparks will be shut Thursday because of the coronavirus pandemic.

So while we wait and hope for baseball this year, some present and past sports writers for The Associated Press reflect on their favorite opening day memories, on and off the field:


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April 5, 1983

Shea Stadium, New York

What I’ve always remembered was the roar.

Way off in the distance, coming full throat from an afternoon crowd I couldn’t even see yet.

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We were trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic, inching our way toward the Shea Stadium parking lot. Still must have been a half-mile from our seats — maybe more.

Inside that huge, horseshoe-shaped ballpark, a favorite son had returned. Tom Seaver was back with the New York Mets six years after being traded away. And when The Franchise walked in from the bullpen following his pregame warmup, fans let loose with a loud and unbridled outpouring of love.

You could begin to make out the ovation even with the windows up. Muffled, like the ocean echo when you hold a seashell to your ear. So my dad rolled down the glass, and let that intoxicating sound fill our station wagon.

I don’t recall much about the game, other than sitting high above home plate as Seaver pitched well and the Mets beat Philadelphia. Looked it up a little while back — at 38 years old, he shut down a pennant-winning Phillies lineup that featured Pete Rose and three Hall of Famers.

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Seaver got a no-decision. Steve Carlton took the 2-0 loss. Seven NL Cy Young Awards between ’em.

I was almost 8, same age as my own baseball-crazy boy is now. Last week I got a text with a YouTube link from his best friend’s father: “I’m watching this. Opening day ’83. Seaver v Carlton.”

I typed three words and hit reply.

“I was there.”

— AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick


April 9, 1981

On the road, outside Las Vegas

I was driving across the Nevada desert, with Vin Scully’s voice fading in and out on the car radio. A rookie pitcher who had never started a major league game was on the mound at Dodger Stadium.

I was on my way to the old mining town of Pioche to report on a meeting of residents opposed to the MX missile system coming to their area. I drove mile after mile, straining to hear Vinny while imagining the beauty of Dodger Stadium — a place I knew very well — on a gorgeous spring day.

Pioche sits on the side of a hill, and the signal got better as I approached, just in time to hear Steve Garvey triple in the fourth inning and score on Ron Cey’s sacrifice fly. It was 1-0 Dodgers as I pulled up to the Pioche Elementary School, wishing that on this day I could just sit in the car and listen to Vinny instead of residents unhappy about nuclear missiles planned for their backyard.

Soon the meeting was over and I had dictated my story to the newspaper. It wasn’t until that night when I got near Las Vegas that the signal of a local station came in and I heard fans calling in to talk about the lefty with a screwball who shut out the Houston Astros 2-0 in a game that took only 2 hours, 17 minutes.

Fernando Valenzuela would go on to pitch the Dodgers to a World Series title. Fernandomania was born, and in my mind I was there, even in the middle of nowhere in Nevada.

— AP Sports Columnist Tim Dahlberg


April 7, 1969

RFK Stadium, Washington

The tickets were in my dad’s desk drawer. I checked every day for two weeks, to make sure they didn’t disappear. At 11, that’s how excited I was for opening day.

Ted Williams was my dad’s baseball hero, and now the Senators’ new manager. When he emerged from the dugout, I can still hear my dad cheering, “Way to go, Ted!”

That made me and mom so happy.

I saw a President of the United States for the first time. As Richard Nixon limbered up for the ceremonial toss, every player on the Yankees and Senators scrummed in front of his first base box, jockeying to catch the ball. Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson came out with a fishing net. I believe Nixon threw three of ’em.

There was a goodbye and a hello. The outfield message board flashed a note to Mickey Mantle, who had retired the previous month. The out-of-town scoreboard had new abbreviations for expansion teams in Montreal, San Diego, Seattle and Kansas City.

The game itself, not too thrilling. Washington lost 8-4, Frank Howard hit a home run in the ninth inning.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky to cover a lot of openers. Dad and I used to go to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, we saw Cal Ripken Jr. hit his first home run. I skipped the eel bento box at the Tokyo Dome before Cubs-Mets. I got yelled at by Dave Parker the first day I was on a big league field, at the Vet in Philly.

But if there ever was a more perfect day for baseball than that afternoon at RFK, I can’t imagine it.

— AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker


April 4, 1988

The AP bureau, Miami

I grew up in Memphis in the 1960s as a Cincinnati Reds fan. That was partly because it annoyed my parents, who preferred the St. Louis Cardinals, and partly because my best friend’s uncle was the sports editor in Dayton, Ohio, which provided a pipeline for Pete Rose paraphernalia.

Then my family moved to Iowa, where the Reds’ tradition of playing each season’s first game carried special significance, because opening day meant only a few more months of cold weather.

By 1988 I was in Miami, working on the news desk with the goal of covering major league baseball, but far, far from Riverfront Stadium or any other ballpark. On opening day an arrangement of carnations — red and white — arrived for me at the office, courtesy of my wife, Cynthia. A colleague who also happened to be a Reds fans said, “Where did you find a wife like that?”

I have since been fortunate enough to cover many opening days involving the Marlins, with their first one an especially happy occasion. But opening day 1988 remains my favorite.

— AP Sports Writer Steven Wine


April 4, 1997

Turner Field, Atlanta

As I walked up to the Braves’ new home for its very first opening night, the memories washed over me again.

No, not of baseball. I was thinking of the previous summer, when so many great Olympic moments had taken place in this very spot. Muhammad Ali lifting the torch with an unsteady hand. Carl Lewis winning his final gold medal. Michael Johnson blazing around the track in that golden footwear.

Turner Field actually started out as Centennial Olympic Stadium, but it was always meant to be a ballpark. As soon as the 1996 Summer Games ended, work began to fully convert it into the 50,000-seat home of the Braves.

It didn’t take long to start making new memories. Home run king Hank Aaron bringing out home plate. Braves owner and stadium namesake Ted Turner throwing out the first pitch. Chipper Jones, the first hit.

Most of all, I remember feeling like the Braves finally, for the first time, had a real ballpark after more than 30 years in Atlanta.

Their previous home, right next door, was perhaps the most hideous of the cookie-cutter stadiums from the 1960s. Even though I spent much of my youth at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, I felt no great sense of sadness when it was imploded during the summer of 1997 to make way for a Turner Field parking lot.

— AP Sports Columnist Paul Newberry


The 1940s

Tiger Stadium, Detroit

I grew up in Port Huron, about 70 miles northeast of Detroit. My grandmother took me to my first game as a boy. The stadium was all green then. I remember Hoot Evers sliding into second with a double.

My cousin lived on a dairy farm. When I visited, there weren’t many other kids around out there. He and I would play flys and grounders by the hour. It was Van Patrick and Harry Heilmann on the radio. Evenings, my cousin and I would lay on the living room rug and listen to ballgames on the radio. We used paper tablets to make scorecards and scored many games that way.

Years later, after joining The Associated Press in Detroit, I learned that opening day has always been special in the Motor City. It’s a combination of New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July all rolled into one.

— Former AP Sports Writer Harry Atkins


April 6, 2007

Jacobs Field, Cleveland

The small snowman near second base was the first sign this would be an opening day like no other in Cleveland history — or one I’m likely to experience again.

They played Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” during one delay, a fan ran onto the field and made snow angels in the outfield and crafty Seattle manager Mike Hargrove convinced the umpires his players couldn’t see and prevented the game from being official, denying Cleveland starter Paul Byrd a five-inning no-hitter.

Snow-pening day 2007 was unforgettable.

The Indians and Mariners endured nearly five innings of brutally cold conditions worsened by squalls off Lake Erie that turned Jacobs Field into a snow globe and playground better suited for penguins and polar bears.

Still, thousands of fans, including my wife and then 9-year-old son, braved the elements for hours before the game was finally postponed. The four-game series was wiped out and the Indians went to Milwaukee to play their “home” opener against the Angels.

It all seemed strange then. It would be welcomed now.

— AP Sports Writer Tom Withers


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