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Opening Day memories always end with Cubs loss


Today is Opening Day — one of ’em, anyway — in baseball.

It is a magical day in many ways. For instance, if you are a Cubs fan, it is the only day for sure you can open the newspaper and find Chicago atop the National League Central standings, provided the teams are listed in alphabetical order.

This is the day I think of Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes, who I first saw play baseball at the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M., for a team of high school-aged kids from his hometown of Cincinnati.

Ken Griffey Jr. also was on that team.

The next time I saw Tuffy Rhodes play baseball was on TV on Opening Day 1994. He hit three home runs for the Cubs off the Mets’ Dwight Gooden. The Cubs lost 12-8. The next day Chicago was not listed first in the standings.

(Side note: After thrice taking Doc deep, Tuffy Rhodes was on pace to hit 486 home runs in 1994. He hit a grand total of eight. Within two years he was playing for the Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japanese Pacific League.)

Today is Opening Day, so I also will think of Big John McSherry.

On Opening Day 1996, McSherry was the home plate umpire in Cincinnati. He called seven pitches. He asked for time. Then he collapsed right there on the field and died of a massive heart attack.

Remember what Marge Schott, the Reds’ owner, said after the game was postponed? “Snow this morning and now this. I feel cheated.”

Nice sentiment, Marge.

It is Opening Day, so I will think of Bob Feller, and an asterisk.

My dad once told me that Rapid Robert pitched a no-hitter on Opening Day 1940. Against the White Sox, I think. That must have been awesome. Not just because Feller threw a no-hitter, but also because it was against the White Sox. But it doesn’t really count, at least not according to ESPN, because the game wasn’t on TV. Hence the asterisk.

I will think of Ron Blomberg today.

Opening Day 1973 marked the debut of the designated hitter in the American League. Blomberg, the Yankees’ DH, came up in the first inning against the Red Sox with the bases loaded. Did Blomberg smash a grand slam? He did not. He coaxed a walk off Luis Tiant.

Oooh, what an exciting new rule.

It is Opening Day, so I will think of Thomas Boswell, the baseball writer, who wrote a book that claimed time begins today. And of Pete Rose, who said Opening Day is like Christmas, only warmer. And of Early Wynn, the old pitcher, who said Opening Day is a day unlike any other, “because there’s that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart ... you know that when you win that first one, you can’t lose ’em all.”

If baseball is the national pastime, it is in nickname only; football is much more popular now. But football opening day is not like baseball Opening Day. It just isn’t. For starters, football opens on Thursday night, and the rest of the games are on Sunday, so you don’t have to ditch school to see them.

The coolest thing about baseball Opening Day, if you live in a major league locale or even Kansas City, is that you can ditch school, and most of your teachers won’t mind, and your mom even will write a note that says you were home in bed sick, so your teachers who do mind will cut you some slack. Like the biology teacher. Biology teachers seldom care about baseball or Opening Day.

This is why I am happy to report that Josh Earnest, the White House Principal Deputy Secretary and a lifelong Kansas City Royals fan (which is how he identified himself) wrote an email Friday night informing that Opening Day will not become a national holiday despite a petition signed by more than 100,000 fans at the urging of Ozzie Smith and a Budweiser commercial.

Wrote Earnest in earnest: “While we are sympathetic to your pitch to make Opening Day a national holiday, it’s a little outside our strike zone: creating permanent federal holidays is traditionally the purview of Congress. So it’s up to the men and women on Capitol Hill to decide whether to swing at this pitch.”

This comes as great news to future Opening Day school ditchers, because Congress is like Mikey, the old Life cereal kid. Congress pretty much hates everything, so it’s doubtful that Opening Day will become a national holiday anytime soon, though most people I know don’t get all that geeked about Columbus Day, and that one’s still on the list.

A couple of weeks ago when my mom was in town for Big League Weekend, she told my wife about writing a note to my teachers that said I was home in bed sick on Opening Day — er, April 6, 1973 — when the Cubs trailed Mike Torrez and the Expos 2-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth before Chicago rallied, and Gene Mauch brought in Mike Marshall to pitch, and Marshall walked Rick Monday with the bases loaded, forcing Tony La Russa home with the winning run.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.