Bobby Pope

Pope: Opening day is always special

Major League Baseball’s allure has been diminished somewhat through the years mainly by the fact I can’t keep up with what players are where. Back in the day when I was growing up, you knew that Mickey Mantle was going to be with the New York Yankees, Willie Mays with the New York/San Francisco Giants, Duke Snider with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, Ted Williams with the Boston Red Sox, Eddie Mathews with the Milwaukee Braves and Ted Kluszewski with the Cincinnati Reds. You get the picture.

Even with the money-first and team-later attitude of today’s players, I still get excited about opening day of the baseball season. All 30 teams start unbeaten with plans to be in the World Series in October. There are some that would like the opening day of baseball season to become a national holiday but don’t expect that to happen.

Baseball has had some memorable moments on opening day. William Howard Taft became the first president to throw out the first pitch at a major league game when he did ift in 1910 as Washington beat Philadelphia 3-0 behind a one-hit pitching performance from Walter “Big Train” Johnson. In 1937, Gee Walker became the only player to hit for the cycle on opening day when he did it for the Detroit Tigers. Actually Gee, who starred at Mississippi, hit for the unnatural cycle, accomplishing it in reverse order, home run, triple, double and single. I didn’t know a lot about Walker, but he played 15 years in the big leagues with a .294 career batting average. During that 1937 season, he hit .335 and was named to his only All-Star team.

In 1940, “The Heater from Van Meter” Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians pitched the only opening day no-hitter in major league history when he beat the Chicago White Sox 1-0. That was one of three no-hitters during Feller’s career in which he also had 12 one-hitters. He played 18 seasons in the majors, all with Cleveland, winning 266 games despite missing four years in his prime when he served in the military during World War II.

In 1954, rookie Wally Moon gave a preview of things to come in his first game with the St. Louis Cardinals on opening day. He hit a home run in his first trip to the plate and went on to hit .303 for the season and win NL Rookie of the Year honors. He is one of 111 to homer in his first major league at-bat but just one of a handful to do so on opening day.

The Braves have had three players accomplish that feat. Chuck Tanner did it in 1955 (when the franchise was in Milwaukee), Jordan Schafer in 2009 and Jason Heyward in 2010, a year to the date -- April 5 -- when Schafer hit his. Shafer homered against Brett Myers of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Heyward’s came against Carlos Zambrano on his first swing as a major leaguer. It was a three-run shot. Unfortunately both Schafer and Heyward are in different uniforms this season. Schafer was waived by the Braves in August and picked up by the Minnesota Twins, while Heyward was traded in the offseason to the Cardinals.

The Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs have opening day to themselves when they meet Sunday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The remaining 28 teams, including Atlanta, open Monday. Atlanta plays at Miami.

Baseball legend Yogi Berra summed up opening day the best when he said, “A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.”

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