Waking up on opening day of the baseball season has a similar feel for grown-ups as Christmas morning does for kids. We greatly anticipate that first pitch, akin to a child rushing to tear open the presents.
We can’t wait to see if this particular year includes something we always wanted a World Championship or a Pet Rock. For the past two seasons the ending has been a clunker, but when the bell rings today it becomes another chapter in a tome the fans cannot put down.
The story begins anew every spring.
The child will discover the contents of the box in a five-second fury, but the baseball season is a slow simmering process; a meandering river with twists and turns at every bend. Will the box contain something exciting or another disappointment destined for the attic?
We have six months to answer that.
Personally, I looked forward to opening day all winter. I rarely missed one, at old Shea or on television. Opening day was always an “unofficial” half-day in the NYC school system. Call it a “field-trip,” that far exceeded anything I might have learned in the classroom after lunch.
This season we add the thrill of christening a new ballpark, a once in a lifetime event for many (I remember Shea in 1964 only because of the World’s Fair). The entire season is one of “firsts” for the fans and team.
However, several opening days at Shea from my youth come to mind: 1970, 1975, and 1983. In 1970 I braved the cold to witness the raising of the first championship banner. I thought the Jets should be playing, not the Amazins on a blustery chilly afternoon.
I vividly remember the Pirates tying the game in the ninth inning (Bob Robertson home run off reliever Ron Taylor) and a collective groan released from the remaining frozen stiffs in the upper deck. The Mets lost it in the tenth (Tug McGraw gave up a pair) and days later the frostbite subsided.
The opener in 1975 was completely the opposite on both fronts: cold and outcome. Temperature wise it was a pleasant 60-degree day and the Mets won on a Joe Torre game-winning single in the ninth inning.
I took 6th period on the 7 train and 7th & 8th studying the geometry of a baseball diamond that glorious day. Presently, except for billiards, it’s the only Math I enjoy.
Talk about match-ups in 1975: Tom Seaver vs. Steve Carlton. Two future Hall of Famers engaged in a 2:02 classic. They both hurled complete games but Seaver was the winner. In fact, Carlton was 0-4 lifetime against the Mets on opening day.
The great hurlers of the 60’s and 70’s-Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Sandy Koufax, and the aforementioned Seaver and Carlton did indeed pitch as if they were double-parked.
The pair would hook up again for the opener at Shea in 1983. It was the return of the prodigal son, Seaver, and he did not disappoint the throng: 6 innings and 3 hits but it was Doug Sisk’s three innings of no-run relief that proved the difference in a 2-0 Mets victory.
Might have been the last time Sisk was cheered as a Met.
Seaver would start a record 11 opening days for the Mets, including ten in a row (1968-77). Dwight Gooden started eight. Seaver was a perfect 6-0 and Doc 6-1.
Between them they accounted for 19 opening day starts and posted a stellar 12-1 record.
Maybe Johan Santana will challenge Seaver and Gooden’s proficiency on Opening day as a Met. He’s off to a good start (1-0).