Opening Day memories

April 5, 2012


Every fan thinks his/her team can win it all on Opening Day. That's what makes it so great.


The first Royals game I remember was Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. I was 6. And I only remember the 9th inning. The bad call by Denkinger. The bloop double by Iorg. The comeback win in the 9th. How could I not be a Royals fan after that?

The thing is…the Royals have sucked ever since. Or they had until 2003, when out of the blue they started of 9-0, had a 7.5-game lead at the break and stayed in contention until September, finally going 83-79. For most teams, that’s a decent year. For me, that was a reason to move back to Kansas City from Chicago and by season tickets. Ok, so was my wife. She was my girlfriend then and she lived in Kansas City. But this is a baseball post, people!

I had never bought any kind of season tickets before 2003. But my friend Paul and I figured out we could get one of those 21-game packs for like $250. I know how cheap that sounds to some of you, but it’s the Royals. Now the best part of this package was the Opening Day ticket. It was the main reason to buy the package. The day off work. The tailgating in the parking lot. The beers and dogs at the game. The summer-like weather in the spring, which we had that year.

We were in. And we had such high hopes for the Royals that season. Eventually, they lost 100-plus games. They had signed Juan Gonzalez. Dude might have played 10 games all year, then bailed. Signed Benito Santiago. Can you say past his prime? They had Lima Time coming back. How the hell did this team win 83 games the year before?

But on opening day, we didn’t know what kind of a miserable season we were in for. All we knew was hope. That’s all any fan knows on opening day, isn’t it? By the 9th inning, hope was fading. Fading fast. 100 times harder to find than that guy Waldo. Look, I am one of the most optimistic fans I know, especially when it comes to the Royals. But we were losing 7-3 and Paul and I had more beer in the car. So this was a rather easy decision. And then, the craziest sequence of events I have ever been a part of proceeded to take place. I will never forget it. Even though were were God awful the rest of that season. Even though I think we lost that series.

Like I said, it was 7-3. Bottom of the 9th. And our first batter made an out. At that point, Paul and I got up and started to leave. We were out in the concourse, but you can still hear the PA announcer. He was calling out the pitches as we started to leave the stadium. I stopped: “If he gets a hit, let’s go back to our seats.” Paul agreed. And he got a hit.

That hit was followed by another hit. And another, which made the score 7-4. Two on, one out. Tying run at the plate. To be honest, I don’t remember who the batter due up was. All I remember is Mendy Lopez.

Mendy Lopez was this utility infielder who had no business being on a major league roster. None. But the Royals manager at that time, Tony Pena, loved him for some reason. And so he was the 25th man on the opening day roster. Knowing the tying run was coming to the plate, I looked at Paul, now back in our seats, and said jokingly: “I bet he pinch hits Lopez.”

No sooner had the words left my mouth than the PA guy said: “Now batting for the Kansas City Royals, Mendy Lopez.” I got sick to my stomach. What kind of idiotic, bass ackwards decision was this? Why didn’t Pena just forfeit the game? I verbalized that sentiment and a lot of other negative ones until I was interrupted by the guy sitting in front of us, who I don’t think had said one word the entire day up to that point.

“He’s going to homer,” the guy said. Believe me, you can’t make this stuff up. I started to call him crazy and bass ackwards too — I’d had a few beers by then — but I thought better of it. Instead, I figured I’d hold it until after Lopez struck out or grounded into a double play. Then I’d let him have it.

So there I sat. Fuming. All hope out the window by now. I believe the count was 2-2. And what happened next is something you only see in movies called Rocky or The Natural.

The pitch came in and Lopez swung with all his might. And he hit the ball hard. Really hard. Which made it even worse, because now he was going to fly to deep center and just miss tying the game. Only he didn’t fly out. Because the ball kept sailing. And sailing. And then the quiet crowd erupted as the ball sailed into the fountains.


That guy in front of me. The one who said Lopez would homer. Yeah, I tackled him. In an “I’ve never seen you before and I’ll never see you again, but right now you’re my favorite person in the world and how the heck did you predict that” sort of way. Once I got up and made sure that guy was ok, I ran up the stairs and hugged about five other people. Everyone was hugging. Friends hugging friends. Strangers hugging strangers. People lining up to hug that guy.

The Royals ended up winning on a Carlos Beltran homer in 10 innings. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in baseball…well, since Game 6. The rest of the season wasn’t so amazing, as I said. And the years after that, not amazing. So we haven’t bought any season tickets since 2004.

Until now. Paul and I bought another 21-game pack this year and we’re heading to opening day next week. A lot’s changed in eight years. Lopez isn’t on the team anymore. Beltran plays for the Cardinals. Three managers since Pena.

But one thing hasn’t changed. One thing will never change. Hope. That’s all any fan knows on opening day, isn’t it?

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Nikki Little 65 pts

Awesome story! It makes me think about life in general and why it's always important to have hope.

JGoldsborough 247 pts moderator

 Nikki Little Thanks, NL. That's actually my favorite thing about sports in general. It reminds us to dream, to root for the underdog and to believe we can do anything we set our mind to. It's easy to lose that feeling when we become adults, take on our everyday jobs and don't actually become the professional baseball players we -- ok, I -- wanted to be.


But we should never stop dreaming. And Opening Day is the perfect reminder of that fact.

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@JGoldsborough Good story. That's the reason I love baseball. It can all change in an inning.