I know there were three ballgames Sunday, but today is the real Opening Day as far as I am concerned — because today is the first day your mom could write a note and sign your doctor’s name to excuse your absence from school.
I wonder if moms in baseball cities still do that? Mine did. She understood the importance of Opening Day; she figured we would ditch class, anyway. There was no way we were going to miss Fergie Jenkins pitch on the first day of the baseball season when the grass seemed greener, though the outfield wall was barren of ivy.
So, I vividly recall being in ivy-less Wrigley Field in 1973, when the Cubs beat the Expos — on a game-winning walk in the bottom of the ninth.
It was cool that the Cubs won, and for a day they would be in first place. But on a game-winning walk? It seemed so anticlimactic. Couldn’t it at least have been a sacrifice fly?
Not with the Cubs it couldn’t.
It was Rick Monday who drew the “clutch” walk, against Mike Marshall, and it was Tony La Russa, of all people, who scored the winning run. La Russa was pinch-running for Ron Santo, and the Expos played a five-man infield (perhaps this is where La Russa got the idea), and as Casey Stengel was so fond of saying, you could look it up (on Retrosheet.org).
Ah, the “Old Perfessor.”
When I asked Jerry Izenberg, the Hall of Fame sports writer who lives on the road to Lake Las Vegas, for a vivid Opening Day anecdote or memory, he shared so many that not even a five-man infield could stop one or two from getting through. This was mostly because he covered Casey Stengel and the Mets back in the day when Casey was colorful and the Mets were awful.
Izenberg tells a story about the night before their first game ever, when four Mets got stuck in an elevator at the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis. A prerecorded announcement in the elevator said over and over that Vicki Carr was singing in the rooftop restaurant.
Roger Craig, who would be the first Mets’ Opening Day starting pitcher the next day, started hammering on the elevator door and shouting at the ceiling: “Get her the hell off the roof and tell her to come down here and open the elevator.”
In 1964, the Mets would christen a new ballpark, Shea Stadium, and I’ll let Izenberg and Casey Stengel, who was sitting alongside in the home dugout, take it from here:
“Listen,” Izenberg said, recalling what the Old Perfessor had said in the way that only the Old Perfessor could say it. “You fellas ought to go home tonight and tell your wives that the Amazin’ Mets are now living in an amazin’ ballpark and you ought to bring them out to see it.”
Izenberg said Stengel gestured to the seats.
“Why? We got 21 escalators so you don’t have to risk getting a heart attack just to get your seat. And we got 54 restrooms, which are new and beautiful and painted in nice colors and always clean. Now, if you guys’ wives are anything like old Edna (Casey’s wife), when they hear about our beautiful terlets in the ladies’ room they will nag you until you buy season tickets. Wives can do that. You could look it up.”
And so I did, and that’s just how Izenberg wrote it — he wrote “terlets.” And then he said the Mets lost to the Pirates, but that he didn’t remember the score, but that I could look that up, too.
I did. The Bucs won 4-3. Bill Mazeroski hit a single off Ed Bauta in the ninth inning to drive home Willie Stargell with the winning run.
Every old sports writer, and every old ballplayer, and every old baseball fan has an Opening Day memory that immediately comes to mind. But when I asked my pal Duke Sims, the old Cleveland (and some other teams’) catcher, for his over lunch at Main Street Station the other day, he had to think about it.
He said it must have been Opening Day in the Pacific Coast League, either ’63 or ’64, and his Portland team was playing Seattle in old Sick’s Stadium. Bobby Locke was pitching for Seattle, and Locke (and maybe another guy) must have walked him five straight times, Sims recalled.
So the next day, Duke Sims’ batting average was .000, but he led the league in on-base percentage. You’ll have to look it up, he said, but when I told him you couldn’t look up PCL box scores like you can major league ones, he said then I would just have to take his word for it.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski