Allegany Communications Sports
Every Opening Day is different; every one of them is special. Some stay with you longer than others do and some are but a distant memory.
The essence of Opening Day itself, however, lives in you forever.
From 1981 until 1997, my friends and I made our annual pilgrimage to Baltimore for the Orioles’ Opening Day, first at Memorial Stadium on East 33rd Street and then, beginning in 1992, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in downtown Baltimore.
I’ve been to Opening Day in four stadiums and ballparks — Memorial Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Oriole Park and Nationals Park. I’ve seen the Presidential First Pitch thrown by four presidents on Opening Day — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
(Five if you count Kevin Kline as the fake Bill Mitchell in the filming of the wonderful movie “Dave.”)
The 1989 Opening Day at Memorial Stadium will always be one to remember, as the Orioles hosted the Boston Red Sox for what proved to be a harbinger of things to come in the incredible Baltimore summer of “Why Not?”
The Orioles were coming off their horrid 1988 season, which they began by losing the first 21 games. In front of a packed house in the ’89 opener, they beat the Sawx and Roger Clemens, 5-4, in 11 innings on a Craig Worthington bloop single that dropped safely in Boston’s two-man outfield.
That the Orioles would not start the season 0-21 was the most important thing, and Baltimore went nuts for the day and, as it turns out, for the rest of the summer as the young Orioles took the pennant chase to the final weekend of the season.
During the opener, our seats were in the front row of the left-field upper deck, which would have been perfect seats for a Colts game. They were good seats for baseball too, but the trouble was at least a couple hundred fans that day had to walk in front of us to get to their seats, which did not please us at all.
Naturally, we said some things that we probably shouldn’t have said and complained in a manner with which we probably shouldn’t have complained, particularly when we found out why fan traffic had been detoured our way.
President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak was President George H.W. Bush’s guest that day, which we knew. What we did not know until later, when we were watching postgame highlights at our favorite bar on Greenmount Avenue, was that presidents Mubarak and Bush were sitting directly below us in the Memorial Stadium football press box. We know this because we saw us sitting directly above them on the news afterward.
Needless to say, we had trouble catching our collective breath when we came to the realization that we had not exactly been exercising the proper decorum during the course of the afternoon, while, unbeknownst to us, being under the watchful eye and ear of the Secret Service as well as the snipers (did I mention there were snipers?) that were stationed in the light towers surrounding the stadium.
Another great Opening Day memory came in 1982 when the Orioles clubbed the Kansas City Royals (who always seemed to be the Opening Day opponent then) by a score of 13-5.
It was a gorgeous afternoon at Memorial Stadium and Cal Ripken Jr., in his first Opening Day, went 3 for 5 with a home run, while Eddie Murray hit a grand slam. The game was a springboard to a thrilling season in Earl Weaver’s final year as the manager of the Orioles.
The Opening Day that likely had the biggest impact here at home came in 2006. That’s when the Orioles beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 9-7. What made it significant was it was the first Opening Day for Cumberland’s Sam Perlozzo as the Orioles manager and he was joined on-staff by his best friend, pitching coach Leo Mazzone, of Westernport.
It was just a thrill to be there to see Sam introduced to a warm welcome as manager of the Orioles and stand proudly with his team during the pregame ceremonies.
Seeing Sam Perlozzo have the moment he deserved and had worked so hard for his entire life made Opening Day 2006 one of my favorites.
For the Nationals’ home opener in 2010, President Obama threw the first pitch, marking the 100-year anniversary of Presidential Ceremonial Pitches.
It was the day after Easter, the Nats played the Philadelphia Phillies and our old friend Sam Perlozzo, who was then the third-base coach for the Phils, got my buddy Ed and me some good seats.
The Nationals weren’t very good yet, so the entire stadium was abuzz, not over the ballgame, but over the NFL trade that had taken place the night before and sent quarterback Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia to Washington. That the place was crawling with Philadelphia fans as well made the entire day even more eventful.
Being invited to Oakland’s famous Blue Marucci Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings Opening Day at Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, via RV, was eventful as well. It must have been, because there was very little of it I could even remember the next day. Those guys were serious players, but I will always be grateful for the invitation and for their kindness and hospitality.
The annual Marucci cavalcade, which will continue today, is well over 70 years strong, as the 2005 Pirates home opener was Blue’s 60th, and he was invited by the Pirates to throw the ceremonial first pitch to start the season.
That it is the very best day of any year for so many of us is understood. Opening Day is forever …
The late great Blue Marucci, naturally, threw a perfect strike.
Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT