Edgar Martinez may not be getting the Hall of Fame ballot love so far, but he is getting the Opening Day Countdown love.
We are 11 days away from the start of the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season in Sydney, Australia, and on this day we honor the player who wore that jersey number for his entire career with the Seattle Mariners.
Flash back to April 2, 2001. Playing at home against Oakland, Martinez reached base in all five plate appearances. He was 3-for-3 with two intentional walks, batting in the 3 hole. His RBI single in the seventh scored Ichiro Suzuki to cut the A’s lead to 4-3, the big hit in the game, and Jon Olerud would follow with the game-tying hit. Seattle would win, 5-4.
That was the first of 116 wins that season for the Mariners. No MLB team ever won more.
Who should be No. 10?
On April 3, 1989, a promising and future Hall of Fame infielder named Roberto Alomar reached base four times for the Padres. It was his first Opening Day game. Playing at home against the Giants, Alomar walked on four pitches in the first inning and then scored; he had an RBI single the next inning; and he walked in the fourth and ninth innings.
Such Opening Days were fairly standard for a generation of fans. Alomar was a sign of the game’s return, first for the Padres and then the Blue Jays, among seven clubs he played for in his 17-year Major League career. He was an All-Star for 12 consecutive seasons, from 1990-2001.
Alomar’s final Opening Day game was April 6, 2004, batting second for Arizona at home against Colorado. Alomar walked twice, as he had in his first Opening Day appearance 15 years earlier. In 2011, he was inducted at Cooperstown. Times change, the players change, but Opening Day goes on as we approach Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 11?
You never know what the first day of a Major League Baseball season will bring.
On April 27, 1995 — a late start after the prolonged labor strife — the Indians opened their season at Texas. In the very first inning, Omar Vizquel was charged for two errors on one play. Will Clark reached first on Vizquel’s error at short, and Vizquel was charged for a second error on the throw, which allowed Jeff Frye to score. Just think, one inning into a season and one of the best shortstops in history already had two errors.
Well, things sort of turned around. The Indians won that game, 11-6, they won the American League pennant and reached their first World Series since 1954, and Vizquel won his third of an eventual 11 Gold Gloves. He finished the season with nine errors, so two of the nine came in the first moments of a season. Vizquel owns the highest all-time career fielding percentage (.985) among big league shortstops (minimum 1000 games) and ranks first in career games played as a shortstop (2,709), having played 24 seasons in the bigs. Funny how things work out.
Today as we countdown to 13 days until the MLB Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, we remember the Venezuelan who played 24 seasons, mostly in the No. 13 for Cleveland. He opens this season on the Tigers’ coaching staff. Here’s a look back at his career, as you plan your own season. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 12?
Exactly two weeks away from Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia, we continue the countdown with a salute to every No. 14 in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Ernie Banks, Jim Bunning, Larry Doby and Jim Rice.
Banks made his Opening Day debut at St. Louis on April 13, 1954. He delivered a 2-run single off Hal White to add insurance in a 13-4 Cubs romp, and he spent his entire career with the Cubs as an Opening Day fixture. “Let’s play two!” became his calling card, and fans loved to watch him play.
Bunning made six Opening Day starts, one with the Phillies, four with the Tigers and one with the Pirates. The highlight was a 4-3 complete-game road victory over the White Sox in 1958.
Doby became the first black player in the American League when he appeared for Cleveland at home against the White Sox on July 5, 1947. That was less than two months after Jackie Robinson, our featured 42 Days player here, broke MLB’s barrier for Brooklyn. In 1948, Doby had his first chance to start on Opening Day, and in the process of that Bob Feller two-hit shutout at home against the St. Louis Browns, Doby, playing right field, threw Whitey Platt out at first. Doby helped Cleveland to that year’s World Series title, its last to date in franchise history.
Rice hit a three-run homer off Rick Wise of the Indians at Fenway Park on April 5, 1979. That’s all Dennis Eckersley would need it a 7-1 triumph. It is random, but it was typical in reminding you of Rice’s place among the game’s great sluggers.
Maybe Paul Konerko will join them in Cooperstown one day. That will remain to be seen, as the White Sox star prepares to retire after this season. Tickets are available to see his swan song in a ballpark near you. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 13?
The number 15 in baseball is loaded with players who evoke special memories for many of us: George Foster of the Big Red Machine; Cecil Cooper on Harvey’s Wallbangers in Milwaukee; Carlos Beltran in his prime; Thurman Munson, Jerry Grote, Darrell Porter and Sandy Alomar Jr. all behind the plate in Fall Classics; Jimmy Edmonds diving toward the wall in center to catch a big fly in St. Louis; Tim Hudson for Oakland and then Atlanta; and Davey Lopes earning four straight All-Star selections as Tommy Lasorda’s 2B from 1978-81.
There’s a Hall of Famer in the list, Red Ruffing, winningest righty in Yankees history. And among today’s players, there’s a superstar in Boston named Dustin Pedroia, who has two rings and an MVP trophy. But 16 days away from Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia, we are going to spread the love to Anaheim, where Tim Salmon was a fixture and fan favorite throughout his 14-year Major League career. . . . before the “other” fish guy came along.
Salmon had the unique distinction of spanning three iterations of Angels Baseball. They were the California Angels his first five years (1992-96), the Anaheim Angels for eight seasons (1997-2004), and then the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for his swan song in 2005. In addition to his role on the 2002 World Champion club, he was an Opening Day force, starting off with a pair of 2-for-3 Opening Day games to back Mark Langston wins. Salmon wound up batting .298 (14-for-47) with four homers on Opening Days, and maybe he saved the best for last.
The only Opening Day Salmon missed after his partial first season was 2005, due to injury. He came back in style on April 4, 2006, at Safeco Field. Leading off the top of the ninth against Mariners southpaw reliever Eddie Guardado, Salmon was sent up to pinch-hit for Adam Kennedy, giving Mike Scioscia a righty bat. On a 2-1 count, Salmon took him yard. It was his first career pinch-homer. He had been on the brink of retirement after missing almost 1 1/2 seasons due to problems with his left shoulder and left knee, making the team out of spring training. That was his first homer in almost two years.
Salmon would go on to play 75 more games that season, winding up with nine homers in 2006, and 299 for his career. Now a new generation of Angels prepare to open their regular season, March 31 at home against the Mariners. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 14?
Dwight Gooden stopped by our MLB.com studios in NYC recently, not long after this countdown began to Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia. I told him we eventually would run into a tough choice at No. 16, where he and Hall of Famer Whitey Ford were a pair of New York legends at the top of the consideration list. Here’s what Doc said about making his first Opening Day start for the Mets in 1985, at only 20 years old in a Cy Young season:
“It was very special to myself, obviously being my first one, being at Shea Stadium. It was Gary Carter’s first game as a Met, and he hit that game-winning home run in the 10th inning. That one sticks out more than anything.
“Once you make the team, you always dream about pitching Opening Day. You have all the ceremony, the World Series atmosphere for that one day. It’s the beginning of a new season. Leading up to the game, the drumming going, you’re trying to keep your emotions ready, and the lineups are introduced on the field, all the pregame ceremony stuff, it’s just a great, great thing to have, and it’s the best part of the season outside of the World Series.”
With that introduction, we fast-forward nearly three decades to 2014. Of all the things we are anticipating in this regular season, probably none is more exciting than the first Opening Day start by Jose Fernandez. The similarities to Gooden’s first Opening Day start are spectacular.
Fernandez is 21, ace of the Marlins staff. Like Gooden, he is making this assignment after having already been an All-Star, National League Rookie of the Year and a top-three Cy Young ballot choice in his first season, recording double-digit wins and electrifying crowds.
Fernandez had a 2.19 ERA, 0.979 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 ratio his first season, compared to Gooden’s 2.60, 1.073 and 11.4, respectively. Each righty led the NL in his first year in hits per 9 innings, Fernandez with just 5.8 hits allowed per game compared to Gooden’s 6.6. While Gooden pitched for a Mets club that was expected by many to contend — winning it all in 1986 — it still will be interesting to see whether his second-year growth is anywhere near that of “Special K,” who followed up his first Opening Day start by going 24-4 and winning the Cy.
On Wednesday, Fernandez whetted our appetites again, holding the Mets to two hits in 3 1/3 shutout innings in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Fernandez is on track to make his Opening Day start on March 31 at home against Colorado, and what a night that will be at Marlins Park. There is a Fireworks Spectacular after the game, there is an All You Can Eat Mondays special still available, and a special pitcher from Cuba will be on the mound.
A new season is just 16 days away, and with that special nod here to Ford, the Yankees’ Chairman of the Board, winningest World Series pitcher and Opening Day fixture, on this day we are taking a look at youngsters past and present, with an NL East excitement level that is sky-high. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 15?
While you’re still looking for Major League Baseball’s next .400 hitter, now is a good time to let you know that Todd Helton hit exactly .400 on Opening Day. So we tip our hat to him, 17 days away from the MLB Opening Series March 22 in Sydney.
The Rockies will open the regular season March 31 at Miami, and it will mark the first time since 1997 that Helton, now retired, has not been in Colorado’s starting lineup. That was the year that Helton was an August call-up. After that, he was a warrior who proceeded to put up these Opening Day numbers, mostly having to begin on the road:
24-60, 9 runs, 5 RBIs, 11 doubles.
During that time, the Rockies went 9-7, playing 11 of their 16 openers on the road due to the Denver climate. His performances included game-winners, usually an RBI double in there somewhere, steadiness, and a 4-for-4 performance in a 2004 victory at Arizona, with the first three hits coming against D-backs fireballer Randy Johnson. Highlights:
98 – 2-for-4, RBI, 2 doubles, won at eventual NL champ Padres.
99 – 0-for-5, won at Padres.
00 – 1-for-4, 2-0 loss at Greg Maddux and Braves.
01 – 1-for-2, 2 runs, 2 BB, 8-0 win vs. Cardinals.
02 – 2-for-4, loss at Cardinals.
03 – 2-for-5, 1 run, double, loss at Astros.
04 – 4-for-4, 2 run, double, 6-2 win at D-backs.
05 – 1-for-4, 1 run, 1 RBI, 12-10 walk-off win vs. Padres.
06 – 1-for-4, 1 RBI, double, 3-2 win vs. D-backs. That RBI double off Terry Mulholland in the bottom of the eighth was the big hit, tying it at 2-2 and forcing extras, won by Rockies in 11th.
07 – 2-for-4, double, 8-6 loss vs. D-backs.
08 – 2-for-4, double, run, 2-1 win at Cardinals. His double in eighth was the big hit, leading to the first run and then him scoring decisive run as they scored both runs that inning.
09 – 1-for-4, 9-8 loss at D-backs.
10 – 2-for-5, one run, double, 5-3 win at Brewers.
11 – 2-for-4, 1 run, 1 RBI, 7-6 loss vs. D-backs.
12 – 1-for-4, RBI double, 5-3 win at Astros.
13 – 0-for-3, walk, 5-4 loss at Brewers.
His last Opening Day ended a personal 13-year hitting streak on Colorado curtain lifters. Now the Rockies move on in a new era, Justin Morneau their presumptive first baseman. It is a good time to pause and reflect on The Toddfather’s career, and as the debate begins over whether he will be Cooperstown-worthy, with his jersey number matching the number of years he spent with the same club, don’t forget to include his general Opening Day magnificence in the mix. It is just 1 of 162, to be sure, but it is the day that takes the first foot forward and with him it usually was a positive one. MLB Schedule | Tickets
The next one is a doozy. Who should be No. 16?
Four days ago, we featured Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers at 22 days remaining in our countdown to Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia. That was an easy one. A shutout and a decisive homer last April 1, too obvious.
But maybe you remember that on the other side of that Dodgers-Giants rivalry game, Matt Cain made his first Opening Day start in the Majors. And when he left after six innings, it was a scoreless tie. Granted, Cain pitched out of trouble a lot for the Giants that day, but he got the outs when he had to and he was able to experience something he had been wondering about.
“You’ve seen some guys do it, and you always kind of wonder what it feels like,” Cain said that day. “There definitely is a lot of hype going on with it, a bit of overreporting, kind of. But that’s the fun part leading up to the first game.”
Now another Opening Day awaits. Cain figures to be a lot better than 8-10 this season, having finished strong after a disappointing first half last season. Giants fans are counting on it. The Giants open the 2014 regular season on March 31 at Arizona to start a four-game series, and then they visit the Dodgers for a weekend series on that trip. The home-opener at AT&T Park is April 8 against the D-backs, and more memories are waiting to be made.
Who should be No. 17? Tell us in the comments below.
We’re just 19 days away from the Major League Baseball Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia, and in the course of this entire countdown that started 51 days out with Ichiro, there is really only one Opening Day performance in the history of baseball that holds a place atop the mountain.
“It means a lot of luck,” Bob Feller told MLB.com writer Anthony Castrovince in the spring of 2010, when asked about what was then the 70th anniversary of the only Opening Day no-hitter, hurled by him in 1940. Just months after that interview, we sadly lost the great right-hander, who spent his entire 18-year career with Cleveland, sacrificing four years to military service. Watch him explain what happened:
There were only about 14,000 fans at old Comiskey Park on that April 16, due to a blustery day in Chicago. But the elements actually helped Feller, then just 21 and already with 55 wins under his belt. He abandoned the curve and relied on his legendary fastball, striking out eight and walking five in a 1-0 victory over the White Sox. Feller escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second and recalled, “After that, I started pitching better.”
Feller made a club-record seven Opening Day starts for the Indians, and his first was a year before that gem, in 1939. You could almost argue that his best Opening Day performance actually may have been that first one. He struck out 10, walked only two and allowed only three hits in a complete game victory over Detroit at home, one of the hits a solo homer in the sixth by Bernie McCosky. But history mainly recalls one special Opening Day start a year later. And his legacy carries on, an autograph that sits on this particular writer’s office desk, representing the first signature he ever got as a boy. Rapid Robert loved to sign for you. We’ll never forget.
The 2014 Indians open their regular season March 31 at Oakland, and then face Minnesota in their home opener April 4 at Progressive Field. What memories are in store this season? MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 18?
You probably already know that on April 8, 1975, Frank Robinson, presently Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball development, became baseball’s first black manager. It was a moment that another Robinson, Jackie, the first black MLB player, always wanted to see, but it came nearly three years after the latter’s passing. Frank Robinson was player-manager for the Indians that day in a 5-3 victory over the Yankees, in front of 56,715 at Municipal Stadium.But did you know this: Robinson homered in his first at-bat of that game, a solo shot off Doc Medich in the first. It was a 2-2 fastball low and away. He tipped his cap reaching the plate, saying later that was for his wife, who was seated with their son and daughter.
“Any home run is a thrill, but I’ve got to admit, this one was a bigger thrill,” Robinson said of what was then his 575th of 586 career homers. He would play one more season after that one.
Of course, there were many more memorable Opening Day moments for Robinson, having won Most Valuable Players awards in both leagues, first with Cincinnati and then with Baltimore. He calls it nearly impossible to choose one favorite hit out of his 2,943 career hits, but here is one story he told me. It happened for Cincinnati in 1956:
“My first one. My first hit in the big leagues. Double off the center-field wall against the St. Louis Cardinals, playing against Stan Musial. It was exciting for me. Opening Day. Never forget the first one. You always remember the first one. You always hope a lot more are going to come after that, but you’re not sure.”
I asked who was pitching, and he said, “Vinegar Bend Mizell. Told you, you’ll never forget it. He became a Congressman later.”
The Opening Day Countdown Down Under blog would be remiss without mentioning greats like Mike Schmidt, Lou Brock and Don Sutton here, and let’s not forget a moment at Arizona in 2001 when a batter and catcher were together in a Game 7 moment of history, both wearing No. 20, and their names were Luis Gonzalez and Jorge Posada. Frank White . . . Kevin Youkilis . . . the memories of seasons past are rich, and we prepare to welcome a new one starting March 22 in Sydney. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 19?