IF IT AINT IN D.C., IT ISN'T OPENING DAY
[April 11th] -- What happened in New York last week wasn't "Opening Day." It was merely the first game of the season. For those of us old enough to remember (and young enough to not have forgotten), opening day was always here in Washington, with the president throwing out the first pitch, in front of the season's only capacity crowd.
I only attended one opening day, in 1971, the last season the Senators would play in D.C. I sat in the very first row in the upper deck in right center field -- I loved the seats.
1971 was a year of great change for the Senators. Bob Short had begun the dismantling of the team that off season with an eight player trade with the Detroit Tigers. We just thought it was bad deal. Short traded his starting shortstop Eddie Brinkman, starting 3rd baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, starting pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan to Detroit for Denny Mclain, Don Wert, Norm McRae and Elliot Maddux. McLain, who won the Cy Young award in 1968 and shared it in 1969 with Baltimore's Mike Cuellar, had a tough 1970, suffering through an injury, a fight with a sports writer, and a suspension by Bowie Kuhn. It was hoped that McLain would anchor the Senators' pitching staff. I was disappointed when Dick Bosman was announced as the game's starter. I shouldn't have been; McLain went 10-22 that year.
No one gave the Senators much of a chance to win the game. They were playing the Oakland Athletics, champions of the AL Western Divison. Pitching for them was soon to be all-star Vida Blue. I didn't care. The red, white and blue bunting combined with the 45,000 frenzied fans created an atmosphere that made the game almost unimportant. With my binoculars, I was able to pick out many of the "famous faces" in the crowd. There was Warner Wolf in the pressbox. Gordon Peterson from Channel 9 was enjoying the game in one of the mezzanine seats. Columnist Jack Anderson. Washington Senator Scoop Jackson. Shirley Povich and his son Maury. They were all there. Soon, however, that first 'pop' of a ball hitting the catcher's glove, that first "sttriiiiike" call by the umpire, had my mind back between the lines. The game was on. The Senators won that last opening game 8-0, with Dick Bosman besting Vida Blue. Blue would go on to post a 24-8, 1.82 record that year. Bosman went 12-16, 3.33.
I hope that who ever sits in that same seat this afternoon will enjoy this opening game as much as I enjoyed mine. Oh, a few things have changed since then. The highest paid player on the field that day was Frank Howard, who had just signed a $120,000 contract. The ticket cost me $3.50. Parking was 75 cents. A hot dog and a coke totaled $1.35. But, somethings have remained the same. When Frank Howard jogged to left field that April afternoon, he was wearing a red New Era cap with a curly 'W' embroidered on the front of the cap, the same design as the one worn by Alfonso Soriano thirty-five years later.
Oh, and Frank Howard couldn't field worth a darn either.
Enjoy the game.
I'm pretty sure that Phil Wood, who has myriad Senators memorabilia and collectibles, said that in the later years the Nats were so cheap that they didn't even spring for the embroidered "W" on the front of the cap, it was merely printed on.
So Soriano actually has a nicer hat than Hondo wore. As do we fans. Strange, but true.
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