Let the history begin

Opening Day memorable for even the game’s greatest stars

March 31, 2011
Joe DiMaggio slides in to home safely in game action during his career. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Even for the greatest players baseball has ever known, Opening Day is something special.

And though this year features an unusual Thursday opener, the butterflies will be floating for every player – even those on their way to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.

"You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through," said Yankees legend and Hall of Fame center fielder Joe DiMaggio. "You look forward to it like a birthday party when you're a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen."

Considered by many to be a national holiday, the opening of a big league baseball season brings with it the hope that this is your team's year. The optimism begins today, March 31, with the start of the 2011 Major League Baseball campaign, featuring a half dozen contests (Tigers at Yankees, 1:05 p.m.; Braves at Nationals, 1:05 p.m.; Brewers at Reds, 2:10 p.m.; Angels at Royals, 4:10 p.m.; Padres at Cardinals, 4:15 p.m.; Giants at Dodgers, 8 p.m.).

The remaining 18 teams get their seasons going the following day, the first time since 1905 that most of the teams open on a Friday.

For decades, the national pastime opened its season on a Monday in Cincinnati, an honor afforded the game's first professional franchise.

This year will be the first time a big league regular season hasn't started on a Sunday or Monday since 1998. The last time the majors threw out its first pitch on a Thursday was in 1976, having previously opened on this day of the week from 1901-04, 1907, 1912, 1959, and from 1973-74.

Beginning this season on a Thursday was the result of the Commissioner's Special Committee for On-Field Matters, which wanted to curtail baseball being played into November. "The challenges of our scheduling are considerable," said MLB Commissioner and Hall of Fame board member Bud Selig, "but I shared the Committee's desire to make the necessary adjustments to assure that postseason baseball does not extend beyond October."

Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, a winner of 300 big league games, experienced his share of Opening Day anticipation over a 23-year career, once saying, "An opener is not like any other game. There's that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one, you won't lose 'em all."

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum