There's a good reason that Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith has teamed up with Anheuser-Busch this spring in an effort to make baseball's opening day a national holiday: It's got about everything a fan of the greatest game could want. The hope of a new season is upon us, seamheads. Even though three regular season games are already in the books, including two that were played in Australia, today is the real start of the Major League Baseball season. Dreams of high batting averages, low ERAs and a World Series late in the fall are still within reach.
Though a win in the first game of the year counts just as much as one on the last, some of my greatest memories come from opening day. I may have only been 3 when Rick Sutcliffe opened Oriole Park at Camden Yards with a complete-game, five-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over the Indians, but what a way to christen a new stadium. I was a bit older and able to understand the gravity of baseball's return from a strike in 1995, even if the Orioles started the season in late April on the road. That year didn't quite carry all the ceremonial hype of a normal opening day, but it was baseball's return nonetheless.
Perhaps my most vivid opening day memory is from 2003. With Rodrigo Lopez on the mound, the Birds took the field on a March 31, just as they will do today. Jerry Hairston was at second base and Jay Gibbons in right field. Though the gametime temperature was listed at 48 degrees, a snow squall swarmed the stadium in the third inning and turned Camden Yards into a snow globe. Cleveland's Ellis Burks hit an RBI bloop single into right that neither Hairston, Gibbons nor first base umpire Chuck Meriwether could find. It apparently landed fair. I never saw it, and neither did O's skipper Mike Hargrove, who came out to ask umpires that the game be stopped during the strange weather. The snow would eventually halt and, luckily for the Orioles, Marty Cordova hit a two-run homer in the eighth to tie the game and the home team would win it in the 13th frame.
Last season's opening day, though fresh in everyone's mind, will carry a lot of memory, as well. Even though the O's started with three games against the Rays at Tropicana Field, they returned home to face the Twins on a Friday afternoon. Nolan Reimold and Nate McLouth sparked a rally in the eighth before Adam Jones drove in the game-tying run. Chris Davis then stepped up to the plate and sent the stadium into a frenzy with a thunderous grand slam that won the game.
I attended opening day practically every year before moving to Arizona in February 2011. I've had to resort to watching the last three years of Orioles baseball mostly from my couch, aside from a few trips back to Maryland or to a stadium nearby. I don't always remember where I am while watching each game or what I was doing, but when Davis sent Camden Yards into pandemonium last year, I joined the 46,000-plus in attendance. I was in a candy shop with my family, watching the game on my iPhone. I may have received a few strange looks from the other customers in the store, but none of that mattered to me. I was sharing a moment with my family and my baseball team that will last.
That's what opening day can do. It provides us with optimism. It gives us hope. It reminds us that a long season is finally here after what seemed like a dreadful and cold winter. Though it's just one game, and counts the same as the rest, opening day carries a special place my heart, and the hearts of baseball fans everywhere.
Is it a real holiday like the Wizard of Oz is trying to make it? Maybe not, but that won't stop anyone from treating it like one.
Happy opening day, fellow baseball fans.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.