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It’s finally here. Baseball is back! Let the festivities begin. Who are this year’s starting pitchers, which rookies will impress in their first career major league games, what teams will satisfy or disappoint. The excitement abounds and astounds. Hearts race during this big day.
Opening-day ceremonies are customary in ballparks nationwide. Home and visiting players line the first and third base lines. The stadiums are sold out, with fans loud, ready, and sporting team colors. Celebrities sing the National Anthem and throw out first pitches, military jets fly overhead, and cell phones record the magic moment.
This, however, was not the case on April 17, 1869, the Nation’s Pastime first Opening Day. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team, defeated a team of local ball players, 24-15, amidst no fanfare and no thrown first pitches by celebrities or presidents. At best, the event was quite modest. The Red Stockings opponent did not even have a team name.
For the Red Stockings nine, the remainder of the season was quite remarkable. The team finished with an astonishing undefeated record of 68-0-1. The tie, 17-17, versus the Troy Haymakers, ended in controversy due to gambling activities by team owners. Imagine that! The following year, the Red Stockings upped their undefeated streak to 130 before losing to the Brooklyn Atlantics.
Since 1869, opening days have transformed to national holiday status, with parents and children skipping work and school to attend games and cities hosting parades and other festivities. Along the way, the Red Stockings even ditched the stockings and simply became the Reds.
Despite the uneventful first opening day, Major League Baseball has since recorded some historic ones:
· Twelve US presidents have thrown opening-day first pitches. William Howard Taft was the first back in 1910 in a home-opener in Washington, D.C.
· Bob Feller threw the first and only opening-day no-hitter in 1940 against the Chicago White Sox
· Hank Aaron hit career home run 714 to tie Babe Ruth’s mark on opening day in Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium
· Three major league players hit three home runs on opening days: Dmitri Young (2005), Tuffy Rhodes (1994), and George Bell (1988)
· Tom Seaver holds the Major League record for most opening-day starts with 16 for the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago White Sox.
As for this year, every Major League baseball team is scheduled to open March 29; however, in a bit of irony, the Cincinnati Reds, the traditional opening-day team since 1869, did not play. Per Cincinnati.com, Phil Castellani, the Reds chief operating officer, has postponed the team’s home-opener against the Washington Nationals to March 30, due to rain. Well, as dull as it was back in 1869, at least that didn’t happen.