Cold reality is that Opening Days quickly are forgotten

April 05, 1994|By Bill Tanton

Years from now, what will we remember about the Orioles' 6-3 Opening Day win over Kansas City here yesterday?

Will it be Mike Mussina's brilliant two-hit pitching for eight innings?

Will it be Rafael Palmiero's sixth-inning home run in his first regular-season game with the Orioles? (He also hit one in the exhibition game here Saturday.)

Will we remember Mike Devereaux, coming off a sub-par year, homering in his first at-bat of '94?

Honest answer: I probably won't remember a thing.

If I do, it will probably be something dumb like Pete Angelos and Tom Clancy throwing out the first ball and bouncing it to catcher Chris Hoiles -- after Don Schaefer had tossed it the full 60 feet, 6 inches.

Opening Days are such big deals accompanied by so much hoopla. You'd think we would remember every detail.

Maybe you do.

I don't.

I never realized that until yesterday, sitting among 47,549 spectators -- the largest regular-season crowd in Oriole Park's short history.

Between innings, perusing the current Oriole Gazette's Opening Day Meanderings, 1954-1993, I was amazed to see how little of it I remember.

I've covered so many Opening Days I remember Carl Powis, whose name hasn't appeared on a sports page in three decades.

Mostly what I remember from Opening Days, though, is shivering.

I remember wearing gloves and overcoats and drinking hot chocolate -- and still shivering.

I remember openers when it was so cold that by the fourth inning people were fleeing in droves.

But I see in the Oriole Gazette that on Opening Day 1991, the last one at Memorial Stadium, the temperature was 92 degrees and the fans were complaining about the heat!

Darned if I remember that -- and that was only three years ago.

I remember a lot of weird things from openers, things that had nothing to do with the outcome of the games.

I remember 1977 when Larry Harlow came in late in the game for, ahem, defensive purposes. The poor guy dropped an easy fly ball to center, and his general manager, Hank Peters, came up with a beauty of an alibi.

"Larry lost the ball in the white shirts in the upper deck," Peters said. "In the minor leagues, he never played in a park with an upper deck. This was a new experience for him."

Years later, when I reminded Peters of this, he said, "Well, I couldn't just blurt out the truth -- that the kid was a lousy outfielder."

I remember an opener in the '60s when a screaming foul ball came back into the press box and struck The Evening Sun's Charley Rayman smack in the right ear. A direct hit.

I can still remember the horrified look on the face of Jim Karvellas, then the Orioles' radio play-by-play guy, as he put his hands on Rayman's shoulders and asked: "Are you all right?"

Miraculously, Rayman was all right. Just had a little ringing in his ear for another inning or so. Never did act the same, though, now that I think of it.

Another thing: the crowds. As we all know, the Orioles, who have now sold out 53 straight times at Camden Yards, played before a lot of empty seats at Memorial Stadium.

Even in the days of the '69-'70-'71 pennant winners, crowds were small compared with today's. Even World Series games didn't sell out.

But Opening Days? The crowds were always large, weren't LTC they?

Wrong. In 1962, the opener drew only 11,379.

You couldn't blame it on the weather. The temperature that day was 52 -- only seven degrees cooler than it was when Mussina threw his first pitch yesterday.

I was there that lonely day in '62, but I'll be darned if I can remember that practically no one else was. I can't remember any opener when there weren't at least 25,000 people on 33rd Street.

Oh, from yesterday I think I'll remember Mussina. I might even remember that before the game manager Johnny Oates said of his ace, he of the 6.75 ERA in the spring:

"If I get seven innings out of him, I'll be tickled pink."

"You got eight," I said to Oates afterward.

"Then I'm even more tickled," he said. "You know, you can't do this game with emotions. You just have to sit back and wait. Be patient."

I should remember that. It's certainly worth remembering when you consider the high expectations this year and Mike Mussina's importance to this ballclub.

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