Periodically, I’d like to revisit some of the top moments in baseball history that I’ve gotten to witness. However, these moments obviously won’t be ones that I have experienced in-person, because I spent my younger years living outside of a major league market and my teenage years attending games at Safeco Field.
This weekend, San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner took the cake with the most memorable moment on Opening Day as he put on a hitting display suitable for any slugger. Bumgarner is already known for his prowess at the plate, but the unlikely slugger ripped two homers in a 6-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Bumgarner’s performance got me thinking about another great Opening Day performance I remember.
Let me take you to March 31, 1996 for the first Opening Day game I remember watching from start to finish. Naturally, it was the Seattle Mariners hosting the Chicago White Sox at the Kingdome in Seattle on ESPN. My 10-year-old self was so excited for the new season that I sat in front of the TV with a notepad and pencil and took stats for the entire game. The game went 12 innings.
To this day, a lot of the game details are a little fuzzy, but I do remember the feeling of disappointment when I looked back after the stats after the game was over and saw that Ken Griffey Jr. (my hero) had gone 0 for 4 with two walks. However, the walk-off win made up for it in the end.
The winning run was driven in by the ninth batter of the Mariners’ lineup, none other than Alex Rodriguez. After he started the night 0 for 5, the 20-year-old A-Rod (let that sink in) singled with the bases loaded to plate Doug Strange. The game lasted 4 hours and 7 minutes and I went to my fourth-grade class exhausted the next day, but it was worth it.
The Mariners were coming off a miracle run to the American League Championship Series the year before (they were 12.5 games back Aug. 15, 1995, I’m sure I’ll hit this one again later), so a walk-off win looked like a step in the right direction to make another crack at the postseason. They ended up missing out on the Wild Card by 2.5 games and finished second in the AL West by 4.5 games (Seattle only played 161 games that year). But 21 years later, this Opening Day win has stuck with me more than any other.
Photo by Brigham Berthold