I was so excited for this edition of Friday Notes. It was supposed to be after Opening Day and with baseball back, nothing could stop us. And here we are with no baseball. I found myself watching recaps of big wins from the past couple seasons on MLB.tv over the last few days. Unfortunately given the team’s success, that didn’t take very long to get through. We’re only on day four of the Kansas City area’s stay in place edict and it feels like we’ve been doing this for four months, so I’m very much looking forward to whenever it is we can get out and about and hit a game. Heck, I may even let some of you buy me a beer this summer at The K. If you’re lucky. Today, I want to take a different approach to Friday Notes and talk about some of my favorite Opening Days of the recent past while we dream about the 2020 one, whenever that may be.
- For some reason, the Opening Day I always think of longingly is from 2003. Maybe it’s because that season was so magical for so long, but I also remember it because I was a senior in high school and I took, let’s call it, a personal day to go to the game. My seats were not what you’d call good, but I was in the stadium and got to watch Runelvys Hernandez, the future ace of the Royals or something who won the coin flip over Jeremy Affeldt to start the game. There were literally zero expectations for the game or the season as the Royals had just lost 100 games for the first time in their history the year before, but they played well. It was a crisp game that only took two hours and five minutes. Six shutout innings from Hernandez were followed by two shutout innings from Jason Grimsley and then Mike MacDougal came in and shut the door, making Frank Thomas look really bad in his strikeout. We obviously had no idea that it was the start of the most fun season the Royals had experienced in a decade or more. Fun fact about that 2003 team is that the only pitcher who started 10 or more games and had a strikeout rate above five per nine was Affeldt. That’s crazy to think about!
- The next one that I always think about is the one most do, and it came the very next year. After finishing 83-79, the Royals made some moves to try to improve on that in 2004. They’d end up losing a whole lot of games, but for a few days, it looked like those moves may work. That 2004 Opening Day was played during my freshman year of college, and as I went to school in Peoria, Illinois, I was able to watch the game on the White Sox feed, which honestly made it so much sweeter. You might recall things didn’t go so well for Brian Anderson early, giving up four runs in the second inning, including a home run to Sandy Alomar, Jr. He gave up a home run to Carlos Lee in the fourth and then Shawn Camp gave up two more in the seventh to make it 7-2. The Royals got one more in the bottom of the seventh, but entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 7-3. As it was not a save situation, the White Sox didn’t immediately turn to their closer, Billy Koch, in the ninth, instead letting Cliff Politte start the inning by walking two before the White Sox brought Koch in. That’s where the fun really started. Benito Santiago doubled down the line to drive in Joe Randa and send Ken Harvey to third. After Aaron Guiel struck out, Tony Pena sent up Matt Stairs to pinch hit for Tony Graffanino. When Ozzie Guillen countered with a lefty, Pena pulled Stairs back and sent Mendy Lopez to the plate. I didn’t get it and neither did you, let’s be honest. Lopez was a career .255/.301/.367 hitter to that point and while he was solid in 2003, he wasn’t “good” at hitting. So of course, he hit an absolute bomb on a 3-1 pitch to tie the game. It looked like 2003 had never ended. Then after an Angel Berroa single, Carlos Beltran did damage on a 2-2 pitch without the benefit of a banged trash can and gave the Royals the walk-off win. For me personally, it was amazing becuase I was in college with plenty of White Sox fans. When the Royals were 4-2 a few days later, I felt great. That feeling would not last.
- The season starting in 2015 was a really special feeling. After the crazy run in 2014 to get so close to a World Series title, there was just a feeling of something special in the air. Of course, I was already annoyed that Ned Yost insisted on hitting Mike Moustakas second because I didn’t for a second buy that he was a changed hitter. Of course, I also didn’t get putting Alex Gordon in the three-spot in 2011 and that worked out sort of okay, so what do I really know? But Moose second and Alcides Escobar hitting first? No thank you. But with Yordano Ventura on the mound and a solid, hungry team, it was going to be a special season. What made this fun was that we got to see a pennant flag raised for the first time in 29 years and the party never really stopped. Both teams went 1-2-3 in the first and while Ventura got into and worked out of trouble in the second, the Royals started the scoring with a Salvy double in the bottom half. They scored two more in the third off Jeff Samardzija and then what makes this so memorable for me personally is that I remember tweeting in the middle of the fifth that Mike Moustakas was about to go yard. Okay, I actually said, “Moose dong this inning. Book it.” I have receipts if you’re wondering, and yes, I’m wrong so much that I really have to toot my own horn when I’m right. Alcides Escobar made the first out before Moose came up and hit what I think was his first ever opposite field home run. That made it 4-0. Jose Abreu homered off Ventura later to make it 4-1, but the Royals piled on with five more in the seventh and then another in the eighth to win it 10-1. That year ended pretty cool.
- Finally one against not the White Sox! The very next year after 2015 was just incredible because it wasn’t just a pennant flag being raised, but a championship flag! And it was against the very team they beat a few months earlier, which is dumb but fun luck. Edinson Volquez took the ball to start that season and he looked pretty good actually. Eric Hosmer got the scoring started in the bottom of the first and by the time the sixth was over, they were up 4-0. Joakim Soria made things interesting in the eighth, beginning the ire toward him, but Luke Hochevar bailed him out before Wade Davis shut the door in the ninth. The game itself was pretty non-descript, but I thought it was fun (and also maybe a bad sign for the future of the season) that they had 10 hits, all singles and still scored four runs to win. I can’t remember the exact stat, but that’s not terribly common. And hey, it was a really fun way to start the season after a World Championship. I don’t have a lot to add to that one because the fun was pretty obvious.
What’s your favorite Opening Day memory? It doesn’t have to be as recent as these, and, hey, bonus points if it wasn’t against the White Sox.