Sunday, 3 a.m.
Opening Day is when you open the gift packages. Sometimes, to be honest, it isn't what you wanted.
Opening Day is when Wilson Alvarez starts for the Rays. And the pitch is a ball. It is 1998, and the Rays lose to the Detroit Tigers. They never had a chance.
Opening Day is when Jackie Robinson kicks the damn doors open. And baseball was never the same. It is 1947, and the playing field is about to get a lot more even.
It is all that is right with the world. It is fresh bacon and flowers and white baseballs on green infields. It the the start, the opening of the package. And it is here.
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Opening Day is when the fireworks go off. Sometimes, they shouldn't. It is 1999, and Rays' exec Mike Veeck decides the day needs fireworks. But a fly ball eluded center fielder Randy Winn, letting in two runs. The catwalks weren't enough?
Opening Day is when Hank Aaron ties Babe Ruth's career record. Call him the last Class Act of baseball.
Opening Day was when the Hit Show made its debut. They lost only 15-4.
The thing is, opening day rarely tells us how a season will unfold. Oh, we look to the game for clues, but the season is so long that one day is too small of a sample. Consider this: In 2008, the best year the Rays ever had, they lost an opening day game to Seattle, 6-5. In 2002, the worst season the Rays ever had, they opened the season with a 9-5 win over Detroit.
In other words, Opening Day is its own deal. It's the return of baseball. The old wounds have healed, and the bad memories have faded. It's time for a fresh canvas, and that eternal hope.
Opening Day is when Bob Feller (1940) threw a no-hitter. Feller spent a lot of days throwing against sportswriters in minor league parks. I was one. It wasn't memorable.
Opening Day is when Steve Cox, of all people, had three hits as the Rays banged Toronto in 2001 for their first-ever win of an opener.
Opening Day is confusing parking and a hot dog. It is a manager making pitching changes – dear God, not him. It is pitchers being ahead of the hitters, unless of course, the hitters are good
Opening Day is when the Rays went to Japan and lit up the Yankees, 8-3. Our old friend Davey Martinez was three-for-three.
Opening Day was a joy for the last time against George Steinbrenner. It was 2009, and Carlos Pena drove in six as the Rays beat the Yankees. Steinbrenner, a good Tampa citizen, died a year later. Probably still fuming about pitching to Pena.
There have been hundreds of poets writing about the newness of a new season. But that isn't quite right. Chicago doesn't want to let go of last year, you know. Neither does Cleveland. And we certainly won't let the Rays let go of it.
So it isn't new, it's reconstructed. It's repaired. It's tweaked and edited and reshot. And most teams enter it believing, or trying to believe, that this season will be different. And that hope is really what has been reset. Ask most Rays' fans about their hopes, and they'll give you a list. But ask them to be serious, and most of us have our doubts that this will be a playoff team, either. But we hope. Because it's what we have.
That hope starts on Opening Day. It always does.
Opening Day is Joe Maddon winning his last season opener for the Rays, 9-2 over Toronto. He'd go on to have a losing season.
Opening Day is Kevin Cash losing both of his openers. He's had two losing seasons to follow.
Opening Day is here. And now. The Rays are undefeated. Chris Archer and Steven Souza have the same amount of strikeouts. Cool.
Stay tuned, won't you?