MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Opening Day makes for great memories

Opening Day makes for great memories

Opening Day is about milestones and memories.

It's about Hall of Famer Bob Feller, at the age of 21, no-hitting the Chicago White Sox in a 1-0 Cleveland victory on Opening Day in 1940. It was the first of Feller's three no-hitters, and it remains the only no-hitter in Opening Day history.

And it's about Jack Morris, making one of his 14 consecutive Opening Day starts in 1986 for Detroit against the Boston Red Sox at Tiger Stadium.

"Usually Cincinnati played the first game every year, but it was raining in Cincinnati, so we were the first game that year," said Morris. "I throw the first pitch and Dwight Evans hits it for a home run. I'm thinking, 'It's the first pitch of the season. You always take the first pitch.'

"Dwight said, 'Could be a long season.'"

It wasn't, though. Morris went 21-8 with a 3.27 ERA that season, a career high for victories. And the first win? It was that Opening Day, of course.

"It's funny now, but it wasn't funny when he hit it," said Morris. "We overcame it and won the game. Gibby came up big."

Kirk Gibson went 4-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs, including a go-ahead two-run shot off Sammy Stewart in the seventh inning, lifting the Tigers to a 6-5 victory.

It's about Hall of Famer Hank Aaron hitting a three-run home run in the first inning of Atlanta's 1974 opener at Cincinnati, equaling Babe Ruth's record for career home runs. Ralph Garr drew a walk from Jack Billingham to open the game, and Mike Lum singled. With one out, Aaron delivered. He finished his career in 1976 with 755 home runs, five of which he hit off Billingham.

And it's about Dante Bichette delivering a three-run home run off Mets left-hander Mike Remlinger with one out in the bottom of the 14th to lift the Rockies to an 11-9 victory in the first game at Coors Field in 1995. Colorado had rallied to tie the game in both the ninth and 13th innings.

"It was the coolest moment," said Bichette. "I swung out of my rear at a 2-0 pitch. I almost fell down. [ESPN announcer] Jon Miller said to Joe Morgan, 'Is it me or is Dante trying to hit a home run?' I was trying to hit a home run and the next pitch was a 2-1 fastball."

The excitement eased what had been a tense time for Bichette. The Rockies signed Larry Walker to a multiyear contract that spring and announced he would play right field, which had been Bichette's position the two previous years. In addition to moving Bichette to left, they offered him a one-year deal.

Bichette did not initially report to Spring Training.

"I was frustrated, emotional," he said. "Then [manager] Don Baylor called and said, 'I want you here.' I couldn't tell Don 'No.' If he wanted me, I knew I needed to be there."

It's about Jackie Robinson making his big league debut, playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and becoming the first African-American to appear in a Major League game. The Dodgers beat the Boston Braves. They scored three runs in the seventh inning with the help of a Robinson sacrifice bunt on which Braves first baseman Earl Torgeson rushed because of Robinson's speed, and threw wild to first base.

And it's about Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan sitting in the visiting dugout at Candlestick Park in a 5-4 Opening Day Mets loss to the Giants in his rookie season, 1968.

"There was so much excitement and electricity in the ballpark, so much anticipation about what was ahead," said Ryan. "In those days, the Mets didn't have that much anticipation. They had finished in last place in five of their first six years of existence and had finished ninth the other time. But the fact we had so many young players, it was a special moment."

Two years later was even more special. The Miracle Mets had won the World Series in 1969, and Shea Stadium was sold out for their home opener in 1970.

"They gave us our World Series rings," Ryan said. "You don't realize at that time that it's going to be the only one in 26 [full] years. We were so young, we made the assumption there were more to come.

"At that stage of your career, you don't appreciate how hard that is to accomplish, because you did it at such an early stage of your career."

It's about George Bell of the Blue Jays in 1988, Tuffy Rhodes of the Cubs in 1994 and Dmitri Young of the Tigers in 2005 hitting a record three Opening Day home runs.

And it's about Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, working on his quest to join the 3,000-hit club, going 5-for-5 with three runs scored in the Astros' 11-3 victory against the Brewers in 2001.

"My 2000 season ended abruptly," said Biggio. "I tore the ACL and MCL tendons in my knee. Opening Day the next year, it was just a great feeling to be on the field again, and then to get five hits made it even more special."

The knee injury limited Biggio to 101 games in 2000, the fewest games he appeared in during a full season in his career.

"I never had any doubts about coming back, but it was nice to have worked so hard in the offseason and be able to come out on Opening Day the next year and have that kind of a game," he said.

It's about President William Howard Taft becoming the first president to throw out a first pitch on Opening Day in Washington in 1914.

And it's about Hall of Famer George Brett, enjoying the celebration in the 1986 home opener, as he and the rest of the Kansas City Royals opened defense of the first World Series championship in franchise history. The Royals had advanced to the playoffs in seven of the 10 previous seasons, and in 1985, they made history by rallying from 3-1 deficits against both the Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series and the Cardinals in the World Series.

The Blue Jays happened to be the opponent that day at Royals Stadium. Toronto won the game, 6-2, but it was still a special day for those in Royals blue.

"It was pretty cool getting introduced that day and then getting handed a World Series ring," said Brett. "Those are pretty special memories. We had gotten close before, so it made that day pretty special."

Little did Brett or anyone else realize that it would be another 29 years before the Royals would even get back to the postseason.

That's what Opening Day is about, milestones and memories.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.