Elliott's opening-day diary

Toronto Blue Jays' players line first base during the National Anthem as helicopters fly over...

Toronto Blue Jays' players line first base during the National Anthem as helicopters fly over before the Blue Jays' season-opening MLB American League baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland, Ohio April 5, 2012. (REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk)

Bob Elliott, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:28 PM ET

It’s only one game.

The first of 162, but there is always more import to opening day, a time of new beginnings. 

When the Blue Jays opened here at Progressive Field on Thursday afternoon it was more than 1/162nd of the season.

“We’re all insecure to some degree. Players don’t want to take an 0-for the first day, show for the second day and see a .000 on the scoreboard beside their name,” said Jays broadcaster Alan Ashby, a 17-year major-league veteran. 

8:20 a.m. Catcher Jeff Mathis is the first Jays player to arrive in the visiting clubhouse. 

“The trainers and the equipment guys were here,” Mathis said. “I got here, watched a little ESPN. They’re golfing at Augusta, you know?”

Casey Kotchman, who played first for the Indians in Thursday’s game, was a teammate of Mathis in the Los Angeles Angels system. 

Their fathers — Tom Kotchman, now an amateur scout with the Angels, and Danny Mathis — played on the same team in Marianna, Fla. 

Now the two sons are in the same park.   

  10:04 Former Kids in the Hall and News Radio star, Toronto’s Dave Foley is a guest on the New Day Cleveland TV show. Host Kristi Capel mentions how “today is opening day and the Indians open this afternoon.”     

Foley: “Yes, they open against my team, the Blue Jays, although I haven’t followed them since they won.”

Capel: “Wasn’t that years ago, before the Indians last won?”

Foley: “Yes, 1992-93.”

Capel: “Dave is appearing this weekend at Hilarities comedy club. Dave, it will change your life. You’ve been there, right?” 

Foley: “No, I haven’t.”

Capel, clapping her hands: “Remember, it’s Go Tribe Go! Go Tribe Go! Go Tribe Go!”

11:22 A rock band is warming on the Rally Alley street behind the left-field entrance, getting ready for the festive crowd.   

11:41 Jays pitching coach Bruce Walton on why Game 1 is different than others: “The butterflies are bigger. It’s a cool atmosphere with the anticipation of moving forward. You wait around forever for this day ... or so it seems.”

Walton doesn’t remember pitching an opening day during his 27-game span in the majors over four years. He does remember starting and winning opening day at triple-A Tacoma in 1989.

“Getting the ball opening day is a big deal in the minors, too,” Walton said. 

12:19 Jays pro scouting director Perry Minasian, now, 31, recalls his favourite opening day. As the clubhouse assistant with the Texas Rangers, he stood alongside his father, Zac Minasian, on the foul line opening day against the Oakland A’s.

“(Manager) Jerry Narron requested I be introduced,” Minasian said. “I remember standing with my dad looking down the line at Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Michael Young, Alex Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Hank Blalock. I get chills talking about it.”  

12:40 The most sought-after players by the media on the field are Jose Bautista and returning ex-Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel.

1:09 Two people examine the floor to ceiling mural of Jack Graney in the press room on the fourth level, read the quotes “I just try to follow the ball and leave the fancy words to others” and his honours: Player for the Indians, 1908, 1910-1922. Broadcaster 1933-59. Top 100 Indians Distinguished Hall of Fame. The first player to move to the broadcast booth.

“Aren’t you going to tell them Graney was Canadian and is from St. Thomas?” someone asks me. 

12:50 Graney opened the door for ex-players such as Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler, who recalled some of their opening day.

Martinez: “In 1971, I drove in a run, caught Dick Drago in a complete-game win. He didn’t give up an earned run against the Angels. Two games later, Bob Lemon sent me to the minors.”

Tabler: “The last time the Indians played the Jays on opening day (1987), I hit a home run off Jimmy Key and almost a second at Exhibition Stadium. We got beat 7-3. Three years before, I went 4-for-4. Charlie Hough started for Texas. Pat Corrales pinch hit Mike Hargrove for me in the seventh.”  

2:41 Of all the Jays standing along the first-base line, Vizquel, who played for the Indians for 11 seasons, is the only non-starter to receive a standing ovation from the half-full stands. 

Indians coach Sandy Alomar, Jr., received the largest ovation among the Indians players and coaches. Yet, Vizquel, according the official Toronto Sun opening-day, clap-o-meter, received the largest ovation.    

2:57A team of Budweiser Clydesdales circles the warning track. An official protest is expected to be filed from St. Louis.

2:59 Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ best opening day memory? It was April 8, 1994, at the Stade Olympique, where he was part of the 47,001 fans on hand to watch the Expos.

“The Cubs started Steve Trachsel, the human rain delay. I went to the game with Michael Yermus, my only friend who liked baseball,” he said flashing back to his days as a Grade 11 student. “I don’t remember the score, but WE lost.”

The Cubs beat Pedro Martinez 4-0.

“So, what’s your favourite opening day memory?” Anthopoulos asks me.

“Look,” I say changiong facial expressions trying to do a GM impression, “there are certain things I can’t comment about.”

(The answer would be when George Bell homered three times at Kansas City in 1988.)

3:08 Yunel Escobar swings through the first pitch of the game from Indians’ Justin Masterson. It was not a put-it-in-play swing. More like a put-it-in-Lake-Superior (not Lake Erie) swing. Masterson could have been a Jay. The best offer the Jays received for Roy Halladay in 2009 was from the Red Sox, prior to the July 31, non-waiver trade deadline. Boston offered right-handers Clay Buchholz and Masterson, reliever Michael Bowden, lefty Nick Hagadone and a position player, likely outfielder Josh Reddick.  

3:21 Adam Lind doubles to right-centre for the first hit of the 2012 season. He’ll have an average when he shows Saturday afternoon rather than being a triple-naught, .000.

3:35 Shelley Duncan hits a ball into the left-field corner with catcher Carlos Santana on first in the second. Steve Smith, obviously coaching third under an assumed name, holds Santana. Left-fielder Eric Thames threw into second.   

3:41 “Ricky Romero not only went to Cal-State Fullerton, but he graduated from Cal-State Fullerton. Not all players graduate — oh, man, that pitch was up, he’s all over the place,” said Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton. 

3:42 Walton comes out in the second inning to settle down Romero as the count reaches 2-0 on Jack Hannahan. Two pitches later, Hannahan hits a three-run homer. 

4:08 Bautista homers on an 0-1 pitch in the fourth. It’s No. 1 — and counting — for the two-time defending home run champ.

4:25 Rasmus, knocked during spring training for lackadaisical play, makes a diving catch in right-centre to rob Hannahan of extra bases.

4:44 Reliever Jason Frasor ducks as J.P. Arencibia’s throw nearly hits him. The ball bounces, second baseman Kelly Johnson takes it and tags Shin-Soo Choo.

4:49 This is a good day for Tribe vice-president Bob DiBiasio, who doubles as host of the popular round-table show with former Indians talking about past seasons. The Indians drew their largest opening day crowd ever of 43,190.

“You have to separate things. As a fan, my best opening day was 1971. We cut school to go to Municipal Stadium. Gomer Hodge hit a two-run, walk-off single. He had three more pinch-hits in the next couple of weeks and he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was ‘hitting 4.000.’

“Working here, it would have to be 1994, the night the park opened and I escorted President Clinton to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch.” 

4:55 Darren Oliver takes the mound in the bottom of the seventh, the 587th player to wear the Jays uniform in the 36-year history of the franchise. From the likes of Jeremy Accardo, Juan Acevedo and Jim Acker to Victor Zambrano, Gregg Zaun and Eddie Zosky at the other end of the alpha list. 

5:25 Escobar singles off closer Chris Perez to open the ninth, putting the tying run on deck.

5:27 Johnson singles Escobar to third, bringing the tying run to the plate in Bautista.

 5:29 Mighty Bautisa does not add to his home run total, flying out deep to centre to score Escobar and allow Johnson to tag and move to second. Tying run on deck. 

5:32 Lind works a walk and is replaced by Rajai Davis. Tying run on first. 

5:35 Edwin Encarnacion doubles off the left field fence, Duncan throws a five-hopper to the relay man and Davis beats the throw home. Tie game.

5:38 Perez leaves to boos, leaving two runners aboard.

5:50 Francisco Cordero, the 588th Jay, escapes a none-out, man-on-second jam. One Jay debut never to be forgotten was lefty Mickey Mahler in 1986. Brought in to face left-handed hitting Brett Butler of the Indians at Exhibition Stadium. Mahler hit Butler with the first pitch and was lifted by manager Jimy Williams. Thanks for coming. Hit the wash basin. No need for a shower.

7:00 As Vizquel, the 589th Jay, enters the game as a fifth infielder — bottom of the 12th, bases loaded — Luis Perez gets Asdrubal Cabrera to hit into an inning-ending double play.

7:49 Perez buzzes Choo, who walks towards the mound. Benches empty. They play on.

8:03 After failing to bunt, J.P. Arencibia hits a three-run homer.

8:22 Sergio Santos gets Jason Kipnis to ground out to second, ending the longest game in history on opening day.

9:15 Jays bus leaves for team hotel.

 


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