Today is the first day of what we will call the 2020 MLB semi-season, which the Red Sox will open tomorrow night. And even though I firmly believe that Opening Day is much, much more important than your birthday or your anniversary or maybe even any other day ever, this year’s model is shrouded in strangeness.
Still, to recognize this glorious event, and provide fodder for those folks eager to make a killing with their opening MLB lines and spreads, I am recounting the greatest Fenway opening day moments ever. And by “ever”, I mean games that happened during my life time and that I happened to be sober for. So there.
4. Manny’s first Fenway home run: Going into the 2001 season, we still had the bitter taste of a defeat at the hands of the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS on our lips, made worse by New York scooping up prized free agent Mike Mussina over the winter. Still, screw New York. Our plan B was Manny Ramirez and, yes, the money we threw his way seemed outrageous at the time. But all of that subsided when the man strolled to the plate at Fenway for the first time as a member of the Boston Red Sox. We were already down 3-0, thanks to some first inning struggles from Tomo Ohka (!), but with two men on, Manny delivered the first pitch he saw over the green monster. Honestly, I don’t think there was a more anticipated first at-bat in the previous ten years of baseball at Fenway, and to say that the place went apeshit when he launched that home run is like saying Snoop Dogg enjoys the occasional joint. One pitch, one swing, just like that, tie game. Suddenly, that was the best spent $160 million since Billy Crystal paid to have the negatives of his film “My Giant” sent out into space to be destroyed by a precision NASA laser.
3. Mo Vaughn pisses off two hundred fans at the Cask ‘n’ Flagon: The Sox were down, 7-2, to Seattle in the bottom of the ninth on Fenway opening day 1998. Half the crowd had already moved out to the bars; those who remained were a curious mix of diehards and folks too drunk to move (I proudly represented both of those demographics). Improbably, the Sox rallied for seven runs off the likes of Heathcliff Slocumb, Tony Fossas and Mike Timlin, the lethal blow being Mo Vaughn’s grand slam. Looking back, it’s a sad reminder of what might have been with Mighty Mo, and a lesson that you gotta keep the faith.
2. Mariano Rivera tips his hat to the crowd: Admit it, when Mo ambled out to a rousing chorus of cheers during the 2005 Fenway Opening Day ring ceremony — looking about as threatening as Chachi from Happy Days — then smiled and tipped his cap, you couldn’t help but like the guy. Even if it was just for a couple seconds and you felt absolutely filthy about it later.
Yes, that’s Dave “The Man” Roberts getting his ring on Fenway Opening Day 2005, which I’m fairly certain also came with a “free drinks for life in the City of Boston” card. I’ve been privileged to have seen four Opening Day ring ceremonies in my lifetime, but this one will always be the best.
Oh, and despite all the weirdness, happy Opening Day.