Being a 31 year old Reds fan has had its ups and its downs over the years. The lowliest of lows include the mid/late 90’s and the early 2000’s where plucking a winning team from those forgettable years is about as rare as Jose Peraza walk (sorry Jose, but with a 4% walk rate you kind of set yourself up for that one). The highest of highs consist of the Jay Bruce homer to clinch the division in 2010 and the first 2 games of the 2012 NLDS (we won’t talk about the last 3 games of the 2012 NLDS…where the Reds lost in an epic meltdown…to the Giants…who went on to win the World Series).
The one thing that’s stayed consistent over my 31 years of Reds fandom is the glory that is Opening Day – a fresh start and eternal optimism, a time to celebrate baseball and spring, a time when the Reds don’t, well…suck. I’ve been to a lot of Opening Days (more than 20 less than 30) and have gathered a lot of memories over the years. Here are the top 5 Opening Days of MY lifetime:
This was a unique Opening Day. It was the first year and the first game that Great American Ballpark was open for business. I was only 14 years old but I’ll never forget walking into GABP for the first time. The new stadium was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I remember walking through the concourses to my seat along the third-base line mezzanine and thinking how different, clean, new, exciting, and neat everything felt. The new stadium had gadgets and gizmos and an ambiance that made baseball more entertaining. There was a buzz around this Opening Day that was unlike any that I can remember. The game itself was a complete dud – losing to the Pirates 10-1, and the season was a complete disaster – going 63-99, but we had a new stadium, darn it…and that was something to celebrate.
If there was ever an Opening Day that felt like the beginning of a World Series season it was 2013. The Reds were coming off of a 97 win season, a division crown, and they upgraded their roster by trading for Shin-Soo Choo. Opening Day 2013 was an all-in year and you could feel it. There was a confident buzz around the fan base – like you knew the Reds were going to be REALLY good, make the playoffs, and go on a run.
There was almost an anxiousness to just get the regular season over with already and to get down to business in the postseason. I remember one of my friends passing the time during this long somewhat uneventful 13 inning game (that J.J. Hoover would go on to blow…miss ya, J.J.!) by carefully placing peanut shells on the back of the lady sitting in front of us. She eventually noticed and we had all had a good laugh about it. Turned out her name was Shelly from Fayetteville…go figure.
I’m not going to lie – I COMPLETELY forgot about this Opening Day game until a friend of mine mentioned it to me the other day. I wasn’t actually at this game, which is maybe why it slipped my mind…but man, I remember watching it. You wouldn’t expect much from an Opening Day game when you run Paul Wilson out there as your starter, but things change when you have one of the best home run hitters in Reds’ history on your team.
Although Joe Randa hit the walk off to win the game, it was THE Adam Dunn show. I remember getting home from school with the Reds down 6-3 (3 runs thanks to a Dunn homer) and not thinking much of the game. Watching the game until the end was nothing more than a formality at that point. Then a little 9th inning magic happened. Adam Dunn hit a 2 run homer in the 9th to tie the game and Joe Randa – Joe FRICKIN Randa – followed to hit a walk off home run to win the game. Based PURELY on the game itself, this was THE best Reds Opening Day game I have ever seen.
Ken Griffey Jr.
This one man alone was cause for one of the most memorable Opening Days ever. Couple that with the fact that the Reds were coming off of a 96 win season and it provided the most interest in the Reds that I have seen in my lifetime. Opening Day in Cincinnati was THE place to be, both on a local and national level. The energy around that day and inside the stadium during that game was incredible.
I remember getting pulled out of school early (no, it’s not a coincidence that I had a doctor appointment the same day as Opening Day), my parents surprising me with a Ken Griffey Jr. jersey, and getting to walk in the parade for the first and only time ever. The game itself was also unique. It was a rainy, dreary day and it was the only game on Opening Day that I’ve been a part of that didn’t actually finish. It was called in the 6th inning due to weather.
Opening Day 2011 was my favorite Opening Day. The Reds were coming off their first winning season in a LONG time. They won 91 games and the division in 2010, Joey Votto won the MVP, and the Reds made the postseason for the first time since I could remember. 2011 was following up THE first year that I have experienced some sort of winning success as a Reds fan in my adulthood. The team had a young core that was solidifying and had players that were fun to be fans of.
I remember it was also the first year that The Banks gave fans a centralized spot to meet up and hang out before the game. The Reds block party started this year somewhat out of default. The block party was never really a planned thing, but I remember walking down Freedom Way and being surrounded by thousands of Reds fans hanging out on the street just enjoying the day. That was the first year for such a unique thing that our city has come to offer and be known for on Opening Day.
The game itself was also the best Opening Day game that I have ever been to. The Reds were down 6-4 to the Brewers in the bottom of the 9th inning when Ramon Hernandez hit a walk off three run home run to win the game. 2011 was a disappointing season overall for the Reds, but that Opening Day was special.
So enjoy the day, Reds fans. Here’s to hoping this years Opening Day takes over the number 1 spot on my list.
I’ll leave you with this:
Photo of Riverfront Stadium by Rick Dikeman. The license for the photo can be found here.