For me, the New Year does not start on January 1, it starts with Opening Day. Opening Day is the physical embodiment of hope and new life. Instead of soon-to-be-forgotten resolutions, I make predictions about who will finally break Steve Balboni’s homerun record (Alex Gordon) and which pitcher will win 20 games (Luke Hochevar) and how many wins we’ll have at the end of the season (88). And every Opening Day is filled with miracles—you just have to look for them.
For example, on Opening Day 2002, I tailgated with my friend Chuck and his sons. We ate burgers and hot dogs, played catch, and made sure to get into the stadium early enough to watch batting practice. After all the pre-game fanfare, the players took the field as Jeff Suppan strolled confidently to the mound. Chuck said, “If the first pitch is a strike, this game is ours.”
Sure enough, the first pitch to Minnesota Twins left-fielder Jacque Jones was a fastball called strike. The stadium erupted. The second pitch, however, sailed over Chuck Knoblauch’s head and landed beyond the left field fence.
The Royals were down 3 – 1 after the first two innings. In the bottom of the third, they scored three to take their first lead of the season. Then, in the bottom of the fifth, Neifi Perez and Carlos Beltran hit back-to-back triples. Buck O’Neil is right; there is nothing more exciting than a triple.
After six innings, the boys in blue led 6 – 4. The Twinkies, though, plated four in the top of the seventh, winning the game 8 – 6. On that Opening Day, the miracle was this: Neifi Perez was the team leader with a .600 batting average—two singles and the triple. (The only other time Neifi impressed me with his bat was when he hit the farthest foul ball I have ever seen—it flew over the corner of the upper deck.)
The next year, 2003, Tony Pena’s simple mantra “We Believe” was in full-effect as Runelvys Hernandez took the mound instead of Jeremy Affeldt because of a Spring Training coin-toss. Seated near White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle’s family, I tried not to be too rude as I cheered when Ken Harvey doubled twice off the crafty lefty. Hernandez, Jason Grimsley, and Mike MacDougal combined for a three-hit shutout, the first and only shutout victory in Royals’ Opening Day history. (They do have one shutout loss on Opening Day. In 1971, the Twins won 2 – 0.)
Probably the biggest miracle in recent Opening Day history took place in 2004, also against the White Sox. The Royals were losing 7 – 3 going into the bottom of the ninth. Brett Christie describes the scene beautifully here. That game only served to reinforce my belief that one should always stay until the last pitch; you never know what’s going to happen.
This year, I’m hoping for a different kind of Opening Day miracle. I won’t be at the stadium, or even in Kansas City for that matter. My cousin’s daughter, Rachel, has cystic fibrosis (CF). I’ve been asked to serve as the emcee for a CF fundraising event in Omaha—Rachel’s Raise of Hope.
Rachel is the same age as my youngest daughter and the two girls look more like twins than second cousins…or third cousins once removed…or whatever. In the last couple of years there have numerous breakthroughs in research regarding CF and every dollar raised brings a cure one step closer. Maybe the money raised from this dinner and auction will make the difference. Maybe this will be the year when CF can stand for “Cure Found.” Maybe next year, Rachel and her family can come to Opening Day with my family without worrying about all the hazards inherent in large crowds for those with CF.
Yes, of course, I’ll miss tailgating, high-fiving strangers, and walking around in awe of the most beautiful stadium in major league baseball.
I’ll listen to Denny on the radio every chance I get, trusting him to keep me up-to-date with the game. I’ll also ask a couple friends to text me updates from the stadium. Before bed, I’ll watch the highlights online and read the writings of Dutton and Kaegel and my KoK friends.
And while 40,000 fans are cheering on the boys in blue, I’m hoping to play a small part in an Opening Day miracle for the 70,000 people living with CF around the world.
For more information about Rachel’s Raise of Hope, click here.