Commentary: Memories of Opening Day at Wrigley

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Patrick Gorski - USA Today Sports
Patrick Gorski - USA Today Sports

Opening day at Wrigley Field always makes me think of being a kid, although that is getting harder and harder to remember. Back when baseball started in the Spring and ended in the Fall, as opposed to starting in Winter and ending in Winter as it does now, I used to be almost out of my mind waiting for the season to start.

Opening day at Wrigley meant summer was just around the corner, school was over, and the black snow that was still in the parkway would soon be gone. Little league would soon start, and I could get back to doing what I did best, play baseball and torture my mother full time.

But what it meant was that there was a chance my dad would pull me out of school and tell me he was taking me to see the Cubs for my birthday. Being an April birthday, there was always a chance the home opener would fall on my date and for three out of seven years in the 1960’s it actually landed either on it or a day before.

I remember running home from school at lunchtime to see if my dad’s car was in front of the house which meant we were going. By a strange quirk of the schedule, although there were only seven other teams to choose from for most of that time, the three games I went to were all against the Cardinals. The Cubs lost two by identical 8-5 scores and crazily tied one 10-10.

My memories of the first one in 1962 were not so much about the Cubs losing but about how damn cold it was that day. A whopping 9700 fans braved temperatures that started out a balmy 41 and by the end of the game had dropped to 36 degrees. Ray Washburn of St. Louis outdueled Dick Ellsworth as Lou Brock of the Cubs went three for three. The game went 15 innings, and it just got colder and colder with each hour. Of note in that game was that Billy Williams played center field.

The next home opener we went to was three years later, in 1965, and it was one of the weirder games in Cubs history. The game went 11 innings and was finally called a tie at 10-10. Larry Jackson of the Cubs lasted 2/3 of an inning, and Bob Gibson of the Cards couldn’t get out of the 4th. Lou Brock, now of the Cards went 3 for 7 and Ernie Banks hit a homer in the 9th to tie the game and send it into extras. Almost 20,000 fans came to see the Cubs that day.

The last time I went to a home opener was three years later. 1968 was the year the Cubs started to put the pieces together for a team that would shape my childhood. Kessinger, Beckert, Williams, Santo, Banks, Hundley, Phillips were the core of that team. Rich Nye faced Steve Carlton, and the hall of fame lefty was tough, going seven innings and scattering nine hits while giving up four runs as the Cards won 8-5. Nye lasted a little over two innings, and Bill Hands went 5 in the loss. It was a beautiful day, temps on the low 70’s and a huge crowd of over 33,000. Santo hit one off Carlton, but it wasn’t enough.


Now, 51 years later, it still seems like yesterday that dad and I spent an afternoon together watching the greatest game ever invented on the best day of the year, the home opener at Wrigley Field.

I love seeing fathers and mothers with their kids in the stands as another generation will have the opportunity to make memories that will last them a lifetime and hopefully get them to become fans of this great game.

Having the Cubs win big surely will help, but I know that just being there will be more important to them in 50 years.

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