Monday, April 09, 2007

Opening day memories (brrrrrrr)

If you're going to brave the cold at the ballpark later today, remember to bundle up and bring your gloves and blue stocking hat. Cold weather has become the norm for Wrigley Field home openers. This afternoon will be no exception. Today marks the start of the Cubs 92nd season at Wrigley Field. Is it just me or have all 92 openers been cold?

The weather is not always the story. Through the years there have been some real memorable opening day games at the Friendly Confines. There was the 1984 home opener when the Cubs roughed up Dwight Gooden and the Mets 11-2 on a complete game by Steve Trout. The Cubs other NL East Championship team the 1989 club, opened the season in dramatic fashion versus the Phillies. Up by one in the bottom of the ninth, new Cub closer Mitch Williams loaded the bases. "The Wild Thing" then struck out the side to save the game. There is another Wrigley Field opener against the Phils that is etched in Cub lore. The 1969 opener featured two homeruns by Mr. Cub. But those were early. The dramatic blow would come a little later with the Cubs down by one in the bottom of the 11th. Wonderful Willie Smith hit a dramatic two run shot to give the Cubs the victory and send the summer of '69 into Cub history.

Todays opener will be my 17th in 18 years. I was not around for any of the three listed above. But I have seen a few openers. Thinking back on the games I have been to, here are my favorite four Wrigley Field openers from the past 17 years:

4. April 5, 1994
Although the Cubs lost the ballgame 12-8. The real story was a journeyman outfielder named Tuffy Rhodes who would homer off of Doc Gooden not once, not twice, but three times in his first three at-bats. This game would be the highlight of Rhodes short career with the Cubs.

3. April 8, 2003
The Dusty Baker era began in Chicago with much hope and snow. The home opener was supposed to be on the 7th but 3" of snow changed that. The Wrigley Field groundscrew did a great job removing all the snow so the Cubs could play the next day. On the 8th the Cubs played the Expos in what would be the coldest Wrigley Field opener (32 degrees). The vines were covered with snow, making some old-timers recall Bears games at the Friendly Confines. The Cubs got off to a quick start scoring 1 in the first and 2 in the third. Behind Matt Clement the Cubs would go on to a 6-1 win.

2. April 1, 1996
Everything started great on opening day. The Cubs had a 4-2 lead on the Padres after seven innings and a 4-3 lead heading into the ninth. Enter new Cub closer Doug Jones. Junk ball closers usually don't work at Wrigley Field. Jones was no exception. The Padres tied the ballgame. In the bottom of the tenth Mark Grace delivered a 1 out single scoring Rey Sanchez. Cubs Win! 5-4.

1. April 3, 1998
Following the death of Harry Caray in February the Cubs honored their late announcer in the seventh inning stretch. Dutchie Caray sang take me out to the ballgame, bagpipes and balloons from behind the bleachers followed. There was not a dry eye in the house. Oh by the way the Cubs beat the Expos 6-2, behind Steve Trachsel.

WGN is now forecasting some snowflakes for first pitch at 1:20. They are also predicting 41 degrees at gametime. It sounds bad, but it won't be as bad as some of the other openers. Cold is a traditional part of these openers just like bunting, Old Style, hot dogs and Jaeger bombs (some people's traditions I guess). Who will make memories on this cold day at Wrigley Field? We shall see.

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