From Babe Ruth’s one-man brothel soirees to Dock Ellis’s LSD-assisted no-hitter, there’s always been something undeniably “rock & roll” lurking beneath baseball’s strait-laced surface. With Rolling Stone‘s High and Tight, we take a weekly look at the game – its history, its characters and its latest news – through the rock & roll lens, with help from our expert panel of musically inclined seamheads. Meet our rock & roll baseball experts here.
What better way to start than with the sweetest, most optimistic pair of words in the English language: “Opening Day.” It’s that blessed annual event when baseball returns to us like Persephone from the Underworld, Jesus from the cave at Golgotha, or Elvis from a barbiturate stupor. Spring has officially arrived, the bunting billows in the breeze, and the first stats of a new season are poised to etch themselves into the record books. It’s time to play ball.
Opening Day is like a blissfully hypnogogic dream where everything and nothing matters; even if your team loses, they’ve still got 161 games left to play. It can be a day of meaningful feats, like Babe Ruth inaugurating Yankee Stadium with its first-ever home run in 1923, Bob Feller pitching the first (and, so far, the last) Opening Day no-hitter in 1940, or Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in 1947. It can be a day of freakish occurrences, like George Bell, Tuffy Rhodes and Dmitri Young leading off the 1988, 1994 and 2005 seasons by hitting three home runs apiece. It can be a day of over-the-top fan exuberance, like the Polo Grounds snowball fight that forced the New York Giants to forfeit their 1907 home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies, the drunken melee at Wrigley Field in 1970 that ended with hundreds of wasted Chicago Cubs fans spilling over the right field wall after the final out, or the 1974 Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres home openers where play was repeatedly interrupted by streakers.
But even if nothing remotely out of the ordinary happens, it’s still a beautiful thing to hear the umpires shout “Play Ball!” again, to watch your favorite players take their positions on the field for the first time, and to see the season spreading itself out before you like some gorgeous alluvial plain…even when you know in your heart that it’s really going to be more like Death Valley. Even Bud Selig whoring out the first official games of this season to Japan – via last week’s two-game series between the Mariners and A’s, which few Stateside fans bothered to watch due to the 3 a.m. PST start times – does nothing to diminish the intrinsic magic of your team’s 2012 home opener.
So for this first installment of High and Tight, we figured it’d be only right to ask our esteemed panel of rock and roll baseball freaks: What’s your favorite memory of Opening Day?
Obvious, for sure, but my most memorable was Opening Day 2005. I was definitely still riding the high from the Red Sox World Series win. But what made 2005 Opening Day most memorable was all of the emotions that WERE NOT present: resentment, fear, hope, dread …you know, all the stuff Red Sox fans know so well. The Sox 2004 World Series win was like finally having health insurance after so many years without it: I might break a few bones this year, but so what, I’m covered.
The New York Yankees are 74-36-1. (Yes, there was a tie in 1910 versus the hated Red Sox.) That’s the only Opening Day memory I need.
I usually drop acid on Opening Day, so they’re all pretty memorable.
Opening Day at Wrigley field is an exciting time of renewed hope for a franchise that is fueled almost exclusively on hope. My most memorable Opening Day was when I was five or six years old. I went with my mom and some friends and the temperature must have been 30 degrees below zero, and even at that age I wondered how dare they play baseball in this weather. And we have a nice black and white photograph of the four of us bundled up like Eskimos, smiling as if we were enjoying a baseball game despite the freezing weather.
Growing up in New Jersey, I was always a Yankee fan. It’s funny, my memories of Opening Day are more about the stories I heard or read. My dad was a huge Bob Feller fan and he would always talk about the great Cleveland Indian. In 1940, Bob became the first and only man to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day, 1940. My dad always liked to tell me that a little over a year later, Bob would serve four years of military service during World War II. The year I was born, 1974, Hank Aaron wasted no time and tied Babe Ruth for first on the all-time home run list with number 714. Wish I was there for that. My strongest memories are of my own brief playing experiences. I do miss the Little League opening days from back when I was a kid in Montville, NJ. We’d all be in our brand new uniforms and march in a parade through town over to Municipal Field. We’d eat hot dogs and drink C&C cola and shove way too much Big League Chew into our cheeks. The smell of those ball fields on a spring day is one of my most deeply engrained sense memories.
I don’t have a memory per se – but certainly a yearly, false optimism that the Mariners just might figure a way to win the World Series. Still waiting on that one.
Many Opening Days at Fenway, me and my gang of friends would sneak in over the wall in the right field corner where the Ted Williams statue is now. Fifteen kids come over the wall at once … they usually only were able to grab one or two of us while we all scattered. Thank God I have other options today. I think they’d catch a much higher percentage these days … we’ve all lost a step or two.
Sadly, I have no remarkable single event to report from any of my opening day appearances at “The Shrine,” what Art Rust, Jr. called “The Big Ball Orchard in the South Bronx.” What I do have, however, is something bigger, far more important, more grand than any single weird event or moment. What I have is this overwhelming feeling, this all-encompassing tingle, a thrill that is unlike any other in my life. It comes from earning my spring by working through the winter, 58 of them now. Spring. It’s the paycheck you get for suffering through short days, frigid damp months, the dreariness known as New York winters. The paycheck. Flowers blossom, birds chirp, days get longer, and kids play outdoors all day long, instead of a select few hours. Women shed their layers, men start their Tarzan chest beats, and … BASEBALL BEGINS ANEW. For me, Opening Day is the real New Year. To hell with calendars and religion. THIS IS THE BIG INNING! My first foray in Yankee Stadium each year, no matter how many years I have been going, is the same. My heart pounds as I approach my majestic home of champions. I grew up in the Bronx, so this stuff goes way back to early childhood and dad-bonding. The five minutes or so, as I approach, enter, and find my seats is it for me. Entering the Stadium, finding the aisle, walking down the steps, the 360 degree surround – visually and sonically – that is Yankee Stadium for the first time each spring, is among the great thrills I continue to experience as a human being on this planet. That smell, that perfectly manicured grass, those sounds, that feeling, the first time each year, never disappoints, never varies. I am not being dramatic. I am thrilled. I am HOME.
I went to Opening Day at old Yankee Stadium in its last year. The game was a complete wash-out, but of course they didn’t officially call it for about two hours. I calculated by then that they must have made close to a million dollars on concessions, because the 50,000 fans were going for it big time although it was obvious that not one pitch would be thrown on that dismal day. I never even went to the section where my seat was. There was an off-day next day so they rescheduled the opener for then, and miraculously, I was still able to go. I showed up wearing the same very loud green sport coat that I’d been huddling in the day before. As I found my seat in the upper deck, a Jeter-jersey-clad fan yelled at me: “Dude, you came back!” Good to know you stand out in a crowd.
I have so many Opening Day memories from early youth to current times but since I don’t always trust my long-term memory, I’ll go with last week. I mean, it’s just so WEIRD to get up just before dawn and turn on the TV to watch the first game of the year – live from Japan, no less. Something about watching the A’s take on the Mariners while I drink my morning coffee and see the sun come up outside my window is just surreal and sets a good, otherworldly tone for the season to come.