2009 Opening Day at Dodger Stadium
|Observed by||United States, Canada|
|2014 date||March 31|
Opening Day is the day on which professional baseball leagues begin their regular season. For Major League Baseball and most of the minor leagues, this day typically falls during the first week of April. For baseball fans, Opening Day serves as a symbol of rebirth; writer Thomas Boswell once penned a book titled, Why Time Begins on Opening Day. Many feel that the occasion represents a newness or a chance to forget last season, in that the 30 major league clubs and their millions of fans begin with 0–0 records.
For generations, Opening Day has arrived amid pageantry. In Cincinnati, Ohio, home of the sport's first professional team, an annual parade marks an official "city holiday" with young and old alike taking the day off to cheer on the Reds. For decades, the first pitch of every major league season officially took place in Cincinnati. Cincinnati remains the only team who always opens the season with a home game (except in 1990 when due to labor problems affecting the schedule the Reds opened the season at the Houston Astrodome and in 1966 when rain washed out the opening series and Cincinnati opened at Wrigley Field). The past decade has brought the introduction of a game televised by ESPN the night before "Opening Day", as well as the staging of season-opening series in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Japan. While these are technically "opening games", Major League Baseball still reserves the title "Opening Day" for the first day in which multiple games are played.
Opening Day is a state of mind as well, with countless baseball fans known to recognize this unofficial holiday as a good reason to call in sick at work or be truant from school (as most teams typically play their home opener in the afternoon) and go out to the ballpark for the first of 162 regular season games. Teams' home openers serve as the only regular season games during the year in which the entire rosters of both teams as well as coaches and clubhouse staff are introduced to the crowd prior to the games (for the rest of the year, ballparks only introduce the starting lineups). Some teams, among them, the New York Mets have had their broadcasters as the master of the ceremonies for their home openers.
Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, who played for the Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, once said: "An opener is not like any other game. There's that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one, you can't lose 'em all."
Opening Day festivities extend throughout the sport of baseball, to hundreds of minor league baseball franchises as well as to college, high school, youth league fields and in areas far beyond North America. Since Major League Baseball generally starts their season first among professional leagues, their Opening Day is the one most commonly recognized by the general public. Most of the minor leagues start a few days later, but within the same week; the short-season Class A and Rookie leagues are exceptions, since they begin play in June. Opening Day ignores the exhibition games played during spring training in the month leading up to Opening Day.
Prior to Opening Day, the teams' managers have to decide the starting pitchers for the game, which is a spot typically given to the teams' ace pitcher. For a pitcher to start on Opening Day is considered an honor.
In 1907, the New York Giants forfeited their game at the Polo Grounds to the Philadelphia Phillies, 9–0, after rowdy fans made and threw snowballs. Without police available to restore order, umpire Bill Klem awarded the game to the Phillies.
Twelve United States presidents have thrown the first ball of the season. On April 14, 1910, baseball enthusiast William Howard Taft attended the home opener in Washington D.C., becoming the first U.S. President to throw out the first pitch to start a season. Harry S. Truman threw first pitches with both his right and left arm in 1950. On April 4, 1994, Bill Clinton inaugurated the Cleveland Indians' new ballpark, Jacobs Field, with the first pitch.
On April 4, 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves ignited the Opening Day crowd in Cincinnati with his first swing. It resulted in his 714th career home run, tying Babe Ruth on Major League Baseball's all-time list. Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs.
In 14 season openers for the Washington Senators Walter Johnson pitched a record nine shutouts. Two of his more famous starts include a 3–0 victory over the Philadelphia A's in 1910 and a 1–0 marathon victory while battling the A's Eddie Rommel for 15 innings.
On April 4, 2005, Dmitri Young of the Detroit Tigers hit three home runs in his team's opener against the Kansas City Royals at Detroit's Comerica Park. He became the third major leaguer with three home runs on Opening Day, following the Toronto Blue Jays' George Bell in 1988 and the Chicago Cubs' Tuffy Rhodes in 1994.
The longest Opening Day game in major league history was played on April 5, 2012 between the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays. The game, played at Cleveland's Progressive Field, ended with the Blue Jays beating the Indians, 7–4, in 16 innings. The previous record for longest Opening Day game was on April 19, 1960, again at Cleveland. That game, lasting 15 innings also saw the Indians in a losing effort, 4–2, versus the Detroit Tigers. The Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators also played a 15-inning season opener on April 13, 1926, with Washington winning, 1–0, at home.
On rare occasions, predominantly in the early 20th century, a team would open its home season with a doubleheader. The first of these came when the Boston Americans hosted the Philadelphia Athletics for two games on April 20, 1903, with Boston winning the first game, 9–4, and Philadelphia taking the second game, 10–7. The most recent Opening Day doubleheader was played on April 7, 1971, with the Chicago White Sox defeating the host Oakland Athletics in both games (6–5 and 12–4, respectively).
Recent Opening Days
MLB had most of its teams open the 2011 season on a Thursday (March 31) or Friday (April 1) rather than the traditional Monday, in order to prevent the World Series from extending into November. Similarly, most teams opened the 2012 season on Thursday (April 5) or Friday (April 6). However, the 2013 season saw most teams once more opening on Monday (April 1), and the 2014 season will likewise open on Monday (March 31).
There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating back the forces of darkness and the National Football League.
You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you're a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.
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