The two most memorable opening days in my memory are marking significant anniversaries this year.
Forty years ago, on April 8, 1971, an unheralded rookie named Gomer Hodge drove in the winning run in the Cleveland Indians’ home opener. Somewhere in a scrapbook I have clippings from that game, the exciting finish of which I caught on the radio.
Thirty years ago, on April 16, 1981, a Thursday, I had the day off from new job at The Associated Press bureau in Milwaukee. Knowing that it was the day of the home opener for the Brewers, my wife suggested we go to the game. It was sold out, but we thought, what the heck? Let’s check the want ads.
This was long before StubHub. So we picked up that morning’s Milwaukee Sentinel and called a guy who lived not too far away on the South Side who had a pair of tickets. I don’t recall what we paid or even how we picked the tickets up, but when the game started, we were somewhere in the lower deck behind home plate at County Stadium.
We were bundled up as the temperature likely was in the low 40s, and the Brewers lost to the Indians 1-0 in a good pitching matchup between Wayne Garland of the Tribe and Mike “Mr. Warmth” Caldwell” of the Brew Crew.
I remember little of the game other than it was cold, that we wore buttons given to the fans by Pabst Blue Ribbon (they’re somewhere in the house; I’ll add the photo when I find them) and that we had a grand time.
My wife was six month pregnant with our first child, and our best memory is of leaving at the end of the game. One of the fans exiting with us jokingly accused my wife of trying to steal seat cushions by hiding them under her coat.
Those weren’t seat cushions. It was our daughter, who I’m proud to say inherited the baseball gene from her father.
Happy baseball season, everyone!
p.s. I cannot recall specifically it was opening day, but early one season in the mid-90s a group of us had a bratwurst and beer tailgate party at the Oakland Coliseum before an Athletics game. I’ll have to check with my suspects, er, sources.