Opening Day.

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 “Opening Day” 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. “Two home runs on Opening Day,” said Milner. “How special would that have been?”

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:

1975

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, “They can’t think they’re better than us.” Cincinnati went on to win the World Series that season after Sparky Anderson made The Switch with Pete Rose to third base.

2011 

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.

2005

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.

1980

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. “Gimme the ball,” 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).

1963

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.

John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal “Reptar.”

Join the conversation! 12 Comments

  1. I miss Frank Pastore.

    What a great thought leader and man that young, brash pitcher turned out to be

  2. GABP opened in 2003, not 2002. I was there, the only opening day game I’ve ever been to. A terrible game but a great day in Cincinnati. It was cold, the Reds got crushed, and it was still a great celebration. I’ve never lived in or near Cincinnati but I’ve always been a huge Reds fan since I was a young catcher and Johnny Bench was The Man. He sat a few rows over from me on that opening day. I’ve enjoyed every game in that park and make an annual weekend trek from Atlanta. But there is something special about a new season, and that year a new park, in Cincinnati. 8 days – can’t wait.

  3. Outside of the parade, how is Opening Day in Cincinnati different than most other places? Almost every team sells out and kids skipping school isn’t unique to Cincinnati. I’ve been to no fewer then 30 Reds openers and it’s a great experience……but just about every team has a great Opening Day experience now.

    • Hi Chuck:

      You ask: ” how is Opening Day in Cincinnati different than most other places?” I know you lived in Chicago as I still do. I recall my first opening day in Chicago. It was 1980 and it was perhaps the day of my greatest cultural shock living in Chicago. There was absolutely no electricity in the air. There was absolutely no excitement in the air. People seemed utterly indifferent to the event. It was just like any other day of the year. I wanted to shake people and say “wake up, what’s wrong, don’t you know this opening day!” Yes, I realize this is simply anecdotal and not the result of a scientific survey. Also, my experience could be due to the fact that I am at the University of Chicago where as they say “fun goes to die.” All I can tell you is that at least for this expat it sure feels very odd up here Chicago on opening day.

      • Good info, KMartin…as always. If I were to play ” word association” with the University of Chicago, ” fun” would not be part of the lexicon

        I’ve been to 5 Cubs opening days since 2003 and the vibe at Wrigley was similar to Cincinnati…..in 2008 and 2009 it was almost giddy. Of course, Cub fans tend to be optimistic until their ingrained fatalism kicks in.

        I’m moving back to Chicago next week and already have my Cubs opening day tickets vs Reds April 11.

        • Enjoy the game my friend. A night game on April 11 in Chicago, stay warm!

  4. Cincinnati is the only place I’m aware of that actually tried to have Opening Day declared a holiday. Gimmicky, yeah, but they made the effort sound good. … And for years, decades, the rest of the teams didn’t ‘play ball’ until after the first pitch was thrown out in Cincinnati. That made it special while that was the case.

    I was at the 1974 opener, with Henry Aaron’s Ruth-tying home run, and Rose scoring from second base to win in the 11th inning.

    On the Ramon Hernandez game in 2011, the ending was a direct opposite to the beginning. Didn’t Rickie Weeks, the first Brewers’ batter, hit a home run?

    • I was at opening day in 1954 with my buddies from the Middletown H.S. baseball team. We saw Hank Aaron play his first game with the Milwaukee Braves.

  5. When I requested the day off work, my boss asked why. I said “Opening Day.” He said, “Oh that’s right… you’re a baseball fan.” A bit of an understatement, but folks out here just don’t understand. I’ve never heard any Rockies fans talking about Opening Day.

  6. 2011 was against the Brewers

  7. I remember the Opening Day HR by Randa. I had remarked at the beginning of the inning when Braden Looper came on “He’s a sinkerballer. Let’s hope it isn’t sinking because if it isn’t sinking, he’s hittable.”

    The Randa HR landed in my section that day. It was awesome!

    That was my favorite Opening Day. My least favorite was the cold, rainy George Bush throwing out the first pitch day. It was cold and took a long time getting into the stadium because of the added security. I was also sick as a dog and the Reds didn’t play well. I had great seats too, so it was really a bummer. I wasn’t a fan of President Bush but it was very cool to see the President in person, throwing out the first pitch. As he was a fine ballplayer back in his day, his throw a pretty good one.

  8. My first opening day?
    Where is the best place to be during the parade? What time should we get there in order to get a good vantage point? Should we bring chairs?

Comments are closed.

About John Ring

John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal "Reptar."

Category

Opening Day

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,