MLB Opening Day memories we're thinking of with the 2020 season on hold
Jason Heyward, Tuffy Rhodes, Mark McGwire and more highlight our list
Hey look, it's Thursday, March 26. This was supposed to be Major League Baseball's Opening Day for the 2020 season. Unfortunately, due to the spread of the coronavirus, that date won't be happening any time soon. But we still wanted to recognize would-be-Opening Day by taking a trip down memory lane.
What is your favorite opening day memory?
I'll start. It's an easy one for me. Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes was sent to the Cubs just before the 1993 trade deadline as part of a three-team trade that sent reliever Paul Assenmacher to the Yankees. Rhodes hit .288/.413/.538 in his 15 big-league games for the Cubs and that -- along with spring training -- convinced them to use him as the leadoff man in the 1994 opener against Dwight Gooden and the Mets.
Rhodes would hit three home runs.
I now think it makes the memory even better because this was the pinnacle of his MLB career. His final line in 95 games that season was .234/.318/.387 with just eight home runs. He only got 45 more MLB plate appearances. He did end up hitting 464 homers in Japan's NPB, though.
To this day, I'll never forget watching that gem of an Opening Day.
Thursday's episode of Nothing Personal with David Samson was all about Opening Day. Have a listen below.
We reached out to some other CBS Sports staff members for their favorite Opening Day memories. Here's what they had to say.
R.J. Anderson, MLB writer: The one that jumps to mind for me is the Yankees-Rays opener in 2012. Carlos Pena had returned to Tampa Bay over the winter, and he reintroduced himself to St. Petersburg with a huge afternoon. He hit a grand slam in his first at-bat (after the Yankees had intentionally walked Sean Rodriguez to load the bases) and delivered a walk-off, two-strike hit against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth. Pena had a disappointing season otherwise, but for one afternoon, he received a hero's welcome back to the franchise that I associate him with.
Dayn Perry, MLB writer: We didn't know what it would lead to at the time, but Mark McGwire's Opening Day grand slam in 1998 stands out. That is of course the year in which he and Sammy Sosa dueled for the single-season home run record, which McGwire eventually broke. PED revelations since then have sullied the season for some, but in the moment it was an incredible chase to follow. That Opening Day granny started it all.
Scott White, fantasy baseball writer: The first time I had the wherewithal to watch my Braves on opening day was 1995, fresh off the strike. I had just turned 11 and was still pretty new to baseball thing. My fervor could have been dampened still, I suppose. But they had me at hello, opening with six straight hits off the Giants' Terry Mulholland -- including one by rookie Chipper Jones. They won the game 12-5 and my heart forever.
Chris Towers, fantasy sports editor: One of the things you have to get used to in this job is being wrong, often loudly and publicly, and Opening Day 2009 for the Marlins gave me some good practice. I loudly told anyone who would listen at the time that the Marlins were making a massive mistake in handing the lead off role on a playoff contender to the newly acquired Emilio Bonifacio, so of course Bonifacio went out and led off the game with a single, a steal, and a score in the first inning. He would go on to collect three more hits, two more steals, and an inside the park home run in one of the most unexpected and thrilling Opening Day performances I've ever seen. It was good practice for being loudly wrong a lot more in the future. Thanks, Emilio!
Tom Fornelli, college football writer: For me, it's not so much a specific Opening Day that stands out. I've never gone to an Opening Day game, partially because I prefer a quieter, emptier stadium, but mostly because I want to watch as much baseball as I can on that first day. So it's not a specific day I care about -- though I do remember feeling very good about the White Sox after they shut out Cleveland 1-0 to open the 2005 season -- but rather the ritual of having baseball back in my daily life. A friend of mine refers to baseball as "the summer companion," and that's what it essentially is: A friend you enjoy seeing every day for six months. Opening Day is more about having that friend back in my life than anything else.
Barrett Salee, college football writer: I have been an Atlanta Braves fan since I was born. In fact, on June 21, 1982, my parents and I were featured on the front page of the Atlanta Journal in a 3/4-page picture -- presumably because we were three of about 2,000 people who were at the Braves game the night before (they went on to win the division later that year). The Opening Day moment that I will remember more than any other isn't one during the amazing 14-year run of division titles, though. On April 5, 2010, a young minor-league phenom named Jason Heyward stepped to the plate in what was one of the most anticipated MLB debuts in Braves history. On his first swing, he hit a mammoth three-run home run against the Chicago Cubs that landed about 100 feet in front of me. I've been at some of the best, most dramatic and loudest college football games in the sport's history. The sound of the crowd and shaking of Turner Field rivaled that of Alabama's walk-off win in the national title game over Georgia and Auburn's Kick Six win over the Crimson Tide. Heyward's career with the Braves didn't match the hype -- which surged following his first at-bat -- but it doesn't matter. I'll never forget the buzz before, during and after his first swing in the big leagues.
Pete Blackburn, trending writer: I don't have too many specific game-related Opening Day memories, but I do have a time-honored tradition that I love to carry out each year. Every Opening Day I make it a point to have two hot dogs and a beer for lunch as I sit down to watch some day baseball. Sometimes it actually comes at the ballpark, sometimes it comes on the couch or at my desk. But for me, that tradition is something that I cherish every year because it helps me dive head-first into the season. And just like cake always tastes better on your birthday, the hot dogs always taste a little better on Opening Day.
Shanna McCarriston, trending writer: My sixth foot surgery was scheduled close to Opening Day in 2019, but when I watched the Red Sox win the World Series as an employee of the team all that year and the year before, with a championship ring of my own all the way, I wasn't missing the ceremony. I moved the surgery back slightly, meaning I was still in rough shape come game day, not able to walk, on lots of medication and in a ton of pain. But at least I could go, because like I said I wasn't missing this. Watching the 2018 banner drop with coworkers, who became more like family, in Fenway Park, which felt more like home than my office, I was in awe to even have a small part in it. Covered in blankets to try to keep my foot warm on the cold Boston day, with my dad pushing my wheelchair around the park, I reflected on a season I will always look back on with joy as it culminated in the Opening Day action.
Danny Vietti, social media producer: For me, Opening Day is not just the start of baseball season, it's the start of firsts -- first pitch, first at-bat, first home run, first win (hopefully). There's a unique feeling of both nerves and excitement. Who can forget Madison Bumgarner becoming the first pitcher to crank two home runs on an Opening Day in 2017? How about when Jason Heyward sparked mayhem at a sold-out Turner Field with a 447-foot bomb on his highly anticipated debut in 2010 (as you heard about above)? First moments simply hit different. The best part of it all is it does not matter where teams finished in the standings the previous season or what the preseason projections say. It's a clean slate. Every player, coach, and fan has reason to hold onto hope. And Opening Day might just be the only day of the year we can truthfully say that. Does it mean anything for a team to be in first place after the first day of the season? In hindsight, not really. But don't tell the players or fans.
Tommy Tran, CBS Sports HQ anchor: My tradition naturally is gambling and fantasy based (shocker, I know). Gambling on Opening Day is an annual tradition. It's fun because all the aces are lined up for really the only time all year. Also, I've played fantasy baseball forever with a good group. We'll be ready for Opening Day whenever it comes.
Amanda Guerra CBS Sports HQ anchor: Opening Day was a family holiday growing up. My parents would take us out of school and we'd go with the same families year after year. Even as adults, my family and I try to be together on Opening Day whenever possible.
Bill Reiter, NBA analyst: My childhood in Chicago is a myriad of memories that tend to blend together, particularly those days when mom and dad would load my brother and sister and me into our car and trek from the burbs to Wrigley Field. I was 11 or 12 years old, but on that particular day the memory is as crystal clear as the old, worn photo I still have. Both tell the same story: An overjoyed kid, Cubs hat firmly on, mitt armed and ready to finally snag a foul ball, smiling outside a ballpark that defined baseball and family all at once. It felt like our place. The five of us went often, but it was always Opening Day that injected all the hope and joy and promise that came with the start of baseball and, yes, the arrival for us Cubs fans of that mystical "next year." On this Opening Day, with the cold wind blowing in off the lake, we managed to get into the ballpark early because of dad's work. Bob, Katherine and I walked the dugout before the game, staring slack jawed where our heroes, guys like Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg, would soon sit. We walked across the field, kids in Camelot, and touched the ivy in left center. I get goosebumps just remembering. And then the ultimate moment: Walking upstairs to check out the press box, with no notion decades later I'd work from that very spot when my Cubbies would finally find their way to a World Series and then a Game 7 victory in Cleveland, and bumping into Harry Carey himself. He was everything in person you could want: Funny, kind, very clearly (at least in my memory) and very much a Bud Man before the game, with a "HEY KIDS!" to greet us, and an equally Harry-esque shriek as he lumbered off. The game itself later that afternoon? I couldn't tell you if the Cubs won or lost, if it was close or not, if we still believed afterward that "next year" was finally here. All I remember is the joy of Wrigley, empty, waiting, promising great things to come, and the way that day has shaped my love of baseball for me ever since.
Colin Ward-Henninger, NBA writer: I played baseball my whole life so Opening Day was always special, but it took on a new meaning when I played in college. My group of friends was mostly comprised of fellow pitchers, with a few catchers thrown in, and every year on Opening Day we'd get to one of the basement common rooms early to stake our claim for an entire day of baseball (sometimes this meant skipping classes, but hey, sacrifices needed to be made). Guys would trickle in and out, some bringing in pizza or chicken tenders, but there was a steady presence all day long. Everyone in the room had hopes, however deluded, of one day playing professional baseball, so Opening Day was a refresher and reminder of why we played the game. After months of practicing indoors or outside in the cold, Opening Day invigorated and energized us. Eventually we'd get antsy and make our way onto Old Campus for a game of wiffle ball on a makeshift field while cooking burgers and hot dogs on a grill we may or may not have "borrowed" from one of the residential colleges. To this day my former teammates and I keep a text chain riddled with baseball-related jokes and discussions. It's going to be strange to see it mostly quiet on Thursday.
Andrew Julian, trending editor: It's not just my favorite Opening Day memory, it may be my favorite family sports memory. I grew up in South Florida, have three brothers and my dad is a huge baseball fan. But he grew up in a city that didn't have a Major League Baseball franchise, so when the Florida Marlins first came into existence, it was a huge deal. Well, April 5, 1993 -- the date of the very first Marlins game -- was a Monday, and they opened with a home game against the Dodgers. I remember my dad trying to convince my mom that this first Opening Day was more important than one day of school and him saying "I'm not missing my first Opening Day with my men." Ultimately, my dad won out and we got the day off from school to head to a place that used to be called Joe Robbie Stadium to watch the Marlins beat the Dodgers 6-3 on a gorgeous South Florida day. I'll never forget walking out of the concourse for the first time, and actually smelling the grass and the peanuts and popcorn. I was blown away. I was in second grade at the time, and that following Friday, with the program, pennant and hat from the game in tow, I was the king of show and tell.
Sean Wagner-McGough, NFL writer: At a little before 10 p.m. on Monday, April 1, 2013, the Seattle Mariners were undefeated. Felix Hernandez had just thrown 7 2/3 innings, allowing three hits, one walk, and zero runs, striking out eight batters in the process. In the top of the fifth inning, Franklin Gutierrez singled home two runs to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead over the Athletics. More than one, but less than two hours later, the Mariners beat the Athletics. They would win only 70 more games the remainder of the season, finishing exactly 20 games under .500. But on that night, the Mariners were undefeated.
On Monday, April 1, 2013, I was sitting in the right-center field bleachers at the Coliseum -- the dive bar of ballparks -- for that game. Wearing my King Felix jersey and Mariners hat, I stuck out like a fish on land in a field of green. But the glares from those around me or the banging of the drums a dozen or so rows beneath me couldn't drown out the sound of my celebrations as Felix mowed down batter after batter. I'm nearly certain I was that obnoxious fan. Forgive me. I was a 20-year-old student up the road at Cal, and I missed my childhood home of Seattle.
Opening Day is important to Mariners fans. It's the day when the playoffs and, dare I say, even the World Series seem not entirely impossible for the most inept professional sports franchise in America -- the Browns of baseball. And when Felix was the King of Seattle, we would win on Opening Day ... a lot. From 2007-18, Felix was the Mariners' Opening Day starter 11 times. The Mariners won nine of those starts. With Felix on the mound, they went 5-0 on Opening Day against the A's, prompting Bob Melvin to celebrate when he saw a different name listed on the lineup card a year ago.
"I tell you what: I wanted to go over and kiss him when I saw him earlier," Melvin said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "He's had his way with us for a while now -- maybe he's a little different at this point in time, but when you've experienced him it seems like every Opening Day since I've been here, it feels like the short end of the stick on that."
It never ended up mattering. The Mariners never made the playoffs during Felix's reign. They haven't made the playoffs since their 116-win season of 2001. It's the longest active playoff drought in the four major professional sports leagues in North America.
The Mariners didn't make the playoffs in 2013. They sucked like they always do and wasted another year of Felix's Hall-of-Fame caliber prime like they always did. But for one night, the Mariners were in first place, on a playoff trajectory, and had a semblance of hope. Leaving the Coliseum that night, I endured death stares and jokes about the Mariners' playoff drought. But I didn't care. "Undefeated," I told those who bothered to listen to me in a packed train.
This season's Opening Day has been indefinitely postponed for very obvious and serious reasons. Felix has since moved on to Atlanta, where he'll try to stay in the show for as long as possible. The Mariners are, once again, rebuilding. We have no idea when baseball and our normal lives will return.
But hey, at least the Mariners haven't lost a game yet.
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