Raise up your American flags. Unwrap your red, white and blue bunting, chalk the foul lines, and get the fireworks ready. It’s Opening Day, San Diego. It’s the start of something good, something new. It’s time to put the past where it belongs and look toward the future. So, lather up in sunscreen, grab your tickets, and head out to the ball park. We’ve waited five long months, but Opening Day is finally here.
I’ve personally only been to one Opening Day. It was April, 3 2006 and the Padres were taking on the Giants. My friends and I made the early morning trek from Arizona to San Diego and arrived by around 10 am. For me, it was the second most exciting baseball event I’d ever been too, at least I thought it would be. The previous season, worried that I may never have another shot in my lifetime to see the Padres in the postseason, I attended game three of the NLDS. This was different though. My nerves weren’t wound so tight I felt they might snap with every crack of the bat. This was Opening Day, where excitement is based on new beginnings not do or die opportunities.
We arrived to the park early – like all red-blooded, true American baseball fans should – and watched batting practice. The park was filling up faster than it normally does, which was to be expected. What felt strange though was watching batting practice. By this time, it was the Giants on the field. They took their hacks and fielded stray balls as if this was just an average game. And it was. Opening Day is surely exciting for players, but ultimately, it’s one game on a 162-game road that leaves players mentally and physically exhausted. But for the fans, Opening Day is far from normal. For fans like me, experiencing it in person for the first time, it was extraordinary.
Sitting in the right field bleachers meant no protection from the sun at any point in the game, and as I always do, I had forgot my sunscreen. So I baked under the mild California sun as the boys of spring evolved to the boys of summer before my eyes. My friends and I were part of the show, cheering with every play, begging for a home run ball to fall into our laps. It was baseball at its best.
Jake Peavy was on the mound for the Padres and he dazzled. He was part of a team that included Mike Piazza, Adrian Gonzalez, Vinny Castilla, Dave Roberts, Mike Cameron, and Brian Giles. It was not like the teams we’ve come to know in the past few years. The team was run by Kevin Towers, and while they were always “rebuilding,” this team took on a new philosophy of scooping up as much veteran help as they could.
The team was taking on the Giants. This of course, meant more because of Barry Bonds. The Padres don’t have a natural rival (please don’t say the Mariners). Padres fans, though, hate the Dodgers and the Giants. The first time I can remember hating the Giants was during the 1998 season as the Padres fought them off down the stretch to win the division. Now, I was able to watch my team take on the hated Giants in an Opening Day affair.
Jake Peavy tossed seven innings of four-hit ball. He gave up one run and struck out five. He dominated the Giants’ hitters, including Barry Bonds. Bonds went 1 for 4, his one hit being a double off Peavy. The Padres on the other hand, put together a hit parade, something surprising in Petco Park. They struck for ten hits, tow of them home runs, and scored six runs. In my first Opening Day experience, I watched the Padres win 6-1 to the delight of every person attending the sold-out game.
Finally, when it was all said and done, we all filed out into the streets of downtown. Save for the occasional Giants fan here and there, the people in the streets were happy, with one topic on their mind; Padres baseball. Opening Day was a celebration capped off by the team’s first win of the season. Everyone knew the game didn’t mean much in the long run, but getting that first win in the first game is special. Being able to watch it live is even more special.
Some of you may be going to an Opening Day for the first time today. Take it all in. The rare 4:05 start, the pre-game ceremonies, the first smells of baseball coming from Petco Park. It’s an experience unlike any other. All I can say is, Play Ball!