For openers, 2018 schedule very unique
“You have to start somewhere.” – Eric Davis, Cincinnati Reds, 1990
Indeed…and what better a start than Opening Day?
Opening Day for the Cincinnati Reds, even if they are no longer the first team to play in the new season, has meant the Findlay Market Parade and all the grand festivities that go along with it. However, because of the 1990 work stoppage that crept from Spring Training into the regular season, the Reds found themselves in unfamiliar territory, and – as Davis alluded to – they were opening at night on April 9, in Houston’s Astrodome.
It all worked out for the Reds in 1990, as they would capture the World Series, but baseball’s Opening Day has had its share of oddities that would be expected to go with a nearly 150-year-old institution.
And as it did for so many years, you could start in Cincinnati.
The Reds franchise, since it started as a member of the American Association in 1882, has traditionally hosted the first game of the major league schedule. Sometimes this has occurred the same day as other teams have played, and sometimes this has happened the day prior to other teams starting.
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Only four times since 1882 has Cincinnati opened the season on the road, by far the fewest times for a franchise that has been around as long as the Reds. Twice (1885 and 1888) it was scheduled as such; once (1990) due to a lockout which pushed the schedule back; and once (1966) because of rain which washed out a two-game series with the Mets, forcing the Reds to play their first game in Philadelphia.
Cincinnati fans will surely fill Great American Ball Park on Thursday, March 29, when the Reds take on the Washington Nationals. In fact, 14 other parks are going to ring in the new season as all 30 major league squads will be in action. This will mark the first time in 50 years that all teams will play on the first day of the baseball season. On April 10, 1968, all 20 teams played their season lid-lifter. It used to be a more common occurrence in the first half of the 20th century, as it happened 19 times between 1900 and 1956.
Something else that is just as rare over the past 60 years is a Thursday start to the schedule. Since the 1871 start of the National Association, the first game has been played on a Thursday 25 times. This is only the sixth time it has happened since 1958.
Monday (44) and Tuesday (31) remain the most popular days to have the season opener. Friday (3) is the least popular, and no season has started on a Friday since 1905.
Scheduling quirks have also had to work their way around work stoppages. Though it was not uncommon in the late 1800s to have seasons starting in May, the latest season opener in recent memory occurred in 1995, as the players’ strike lingered into Spring Training. Faced with the prospect of replacement players actually playing regular season games, the two sides hammered out an agreement and the season began on April 25, three weeks after its scheduled start. A players’ strike in 1972 likewise pushed back the start of the season, but not quite as far. The owners locked out the players in 1990, causing the regular season to be delayed for a week.
Opening Day has its fair share of traditions throughout the baseball world. Like anything else, though, there are some times when deviations must be made from the normal or expected. As always, however, Opening Day will remain the day when all teams start with the same record, leaving the next seven months to weave together another season full of moments and memories.
Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum