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5 best Opening Day moments in Yankees history

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 2 days ago By Kristie Ackert, New York Daily News

TAMPA — I was worried about Opening Day way back in January. No, I didn’t have any foresight on the coronavirus pandemic that has terrorized the nation and shut down all of sports, including the start of baseball.

No, I was worried about the weather and the open-air press box at Camden Yards and that I didn’t have the right warm clothes for the occasion.

I’d give anything to go back to such silly little worries right now.

The Yankees were going to be at Camden Yards on Thursday to open a 2020 season heavy with expectations against the Orioles. Instead, this will be the first time since 1995 that MLB’s Opening Day won’t be played as originally scheduled. Back then it was a work stoppage that had canceled the 1994 World Series and left the ballparks dark until the middle of April. That strike was settled by now Supreme Court Justice (and renowned Yankee fan) Sonia Sotomayor’s ruling against the owners, who were attempting to start the season with replacement players.

Unfortunately we don’t have anyone who can settle this global pandemic with reason and a ruling. With New York considered a hot spot for the highly infectious virus, who knows when we will see Yankees Stadium dressed up in her bunting and the sun shine on the brilliant green grass in the Bronx.

But, Thursday, as I work from home and practice responsible social distancing, I will be thinking about Opening Days I’ve covered in the past when I was on the Mets beat. The good (like watching unknown Collin Cowgill hit a grand slam for the Mets in 2013) and the bad (like watching Bobby Parnell blow a save and tear his ulnar collateral ligament in 2014). I’ve only had one Opening Day as a Yankees beat writer (somehow that 6-1 win over the Blue Jays doesn’t stick with me beyond being cold), but I’ve had plenty of time to read and watch videos here while I stay at home.

So here are some of the Opening Day and home Opening Day moments I’ve enjoyed:

APRIL 18, 1923

The old stadium may be gone, but it’s never forgotten that it was the “House that Ruth Built.” On that April day in 1923, Babe Ruth made sure his name would be written into the history of Yankee Stadium on the very first Opening Day there.

Coming off a personally embarrassing World Series against the Giants, where Ruth posted just .118 and the Yankees didn’t win a game, the Babe was plagued by rumors of his “conditioning” and commitment all winter. So he had a lot to prove that day.

Like a lot of Yankees legends who would follow him, Ruth lived up to the moment. The opening of the biggest and most expensive stadium of the time reportedly drew a mind-blowing crowd of 74,200 and Ruth gave them something to talk about. Of course he hit the very first home run in the brand new park, a three-run shot into the right-field bleachers.

APRIL 2, 1996

One of the story lines I was eager to see start on Thursday was Gleyber Torres and how he handled now being the Yankees’ everyday starting shortstop. It hadn’t been a great start this spring for Torres, who had five errors. Didi Gregorius didn’t exactly have a hot start either, but he grew into the role over the past five years and filled in the big shoes of a legend.

Derek Jeter is going into the Hall of Fame at some point this year — another uncertainty with the Baseball Hall of Fame closed due to the pandemic — because of how he stepped into the big moments. His first Opening Day as a scrawny 21-year-old kid was a glimpse of how his 20-year big league career would play out with big moments in the field and at the plate. Delayed a day by snow in Cleveland, Jeter hit his first career homer off Dennis Martinez in his second at-bat and made an over-the-shoulder catch as the Yankees won 7-1 that day.

April 8, 2003

The Yankees had already played six games when they rolled back into the Bronx for their home Opening Day. It was the first chance to see Hideki Matsui in pinstripes and the man who earned the nickname “Godzilla” as one of the greatest hitters in Japanese Baseball League history did not disappoint.

Remember, the Yankees were coming off a disappointing season; 2002 season was the first time they hadn’t at least reached the World Series. They had exited the postseason with a quiet 3-1 American League Division Series loss to the Angels. Legendary owner George Steinbrenner needed to make a splash in 2003 and Matsui was the biggest monster out there.

He introduced himself to the Bronx in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Matsui worked a full count and then crushed his first Yankee home run into right-center field. That set the tone for his seven years with the Yankees, which ended with him winning the World Series MVP in 2009.

April 13, 1978

If there was ever a player made for the Yankees in the 1970’s it was Reggie Jackson. He spoke his mind and he didn’t care who he offended. After he hit three home runs in the decisive Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, giving the Yankees their first title in 15 years, well, Mr. October was the biggest star on the biggest stage.

He even had a candy bar named after him: the ‘Reggie Bar.”

For the home opener in 1978, the Yankees handed out the new candy to their fans as they came through the turnstiles for the first game in the Bronx of the year against the White Sox. Many were just unwrapping those chocolate bars when Jackson stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the first with one out and Willie Randolph and Mickey Rivers on base. He crushed a three-run homer off Wilbur Wood to deep right field, causing the fans to begin throwing their Reggie Bars down on the field in celebration.

There was a delay in the game as the grounds crew had to go onto the field and pick up candy bars, before the Yankees went on to beat the White Sox 4-2 that day, en route to another World Series title.

April 17, 1951

At the time, the fans at Yankees Stadium probably didn’t realize that they were watching the end and the beginning. It would end up being the last Opening Day for Joe DiMaggio, or as he was known on the back pages then: the “Yankee Clipper.”

It was also the major league debut of Mickey Mantle.

It was a fairly unexciting 5-0 beating of the Red Sox that day, highlighted by a three-run sixth inning. Mantle, batting third, picked up his first big league hit in that rally, a line drive RBI-single to left off Bill Wright. DiMaggio, hitting in the clean-up spot, followed with an RBI-single of his own.

The Yankees won the 1951 World Series and DiMaggio announced his retirement because of nagging injuries. Mantle would go on to electrify the Bronx for the next 17 years, ushering a new era for the Yankees.

But that day in April 1951 was also the beginning of a much longer era at Yankee Stadium. Also making his big league debut that Opening Day was Bob Sheppard. The legendary announcer whose voice boomed through the Bronx for 63 years, including seven after his retirement in 2007 and four after his death in 2010. Hall of Famer Derek Jeter insisted that a recording of Sheppard be played when he was announced at the plate through his retirement in 2014.

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