The number 15 in baseball is loaded with players who evoke special memories for many of us: George Foster of the Big Red Machine; Cecil Cooper on Harvey’s Wallbangers in Milwaukee; Carlos Beltran in his prime; Thurman Munson, Jerry Grote, Darrell Porter and Sandy Alomar Jr. all behind the plate in Fall Classics; Jimmy Edmonds diving toward the wall in center to catch a big fly in St. Louis; Tim Hudson for Oakland and then Atlanta; and Davey Lopes earning four straight All-Star selections as Tommy Lasorda’s 2B from 1978-81.
There’s a Hall of Famer in the list, Red Ruffing, winningest righty in Yankees history. And among today’s players, there’s a superstar in Boston named Dustin Pedroia, who has two rings and an MVP trophy. But 16 days away from Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia, we are going to spread the love to Anaheim, where Tim Salmon was a fixture and fan favorite throughout his 14-year Major League career. . . . before the “other” fish guy came along.
Salmon had the unique distinction of spanning three iterations of Angels Baseball. They were the California Angels his first five years (1992-96), the Anaheim Angels for eight seasons (1997-2004), and then the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for his swan song in 2005. In addition to his role on the 2002 World Champion club, he was an Opening Day force, starting off with a pair of 2-for-3 Opening Day games to back Mark Langston wins. Salmon wound up batting .298 (14-for-47) with four homers on Opening Days, and maybe he saved the best for last.
The only Opening Day Salmon missed after his partial first season was 2005, due to injury. He came back in style on April 4, 2006, at Safeco Field. Leading off the top of the ninth against Mariners southpaw reliever Eddie Guardado, Salmon was sent up to pinch-hit for Adam Kennedy, giving Mike Scioscia a righty bat. On a 2-1 count, Salmon took him yard. It was his first career pinch-homer. He had been on the brink of retirement after missing almost 1 1/2 seasons due to problems with his left shoulder and left knee, making the team out of spring training. That was his first homer in almost two years.
Salmon would go on to play 75 more games that season, winding up with nine homers in 2006, and 299 for his career. Now a new generation of Angels prepare to open their regular season, March 31 at home against the Mariners. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 14?
So here’s the new definition of a “personal day”: It’s a day within our Opening Day Countdown Down Under when one particular number is personal to you. I’ve seen this from colleagues and readers along the way, and we’ll see it all the way through March 22, when Major League Baseball opens its season for the first time in Sydney, Australia. Today is my personal day.
Rod Carew was my idol as a boy in the Midwest, and I would do anything to watch him swing a bat. On April 11, 1967, Carew was a rookie second baseman as Minnesota opened its season at Baltimore. Batting sixth in the lineup — after Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew and Bobby Allison — Carew stepped up to the left side of the plate for his first MLB at-bat. It was the second inning, and Dave McNally was on the mound for the reigning world champs, having won the Game 4 clincher the previous fall.
Here is exactly what that Opening Day moment brought to baseball history: Crack, single, 2-for-4, Rookie of the Year, 18 All-Star selections in his first 18 seasons (1967-78 with the Twins, ’79-84 with the Angels), 3,053 career hits, seven batting titles, 1991 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As fate would have it, I was a Giants beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News at the time of that induction weekend, had checked his name as a new Baseball Writers’ Association of America voter (still am), and that was my first journey to Cooperstown, because the Giants were there to play the Twins in an exhibition.
Interviewing Carew for the first time, there at the Hall that weekend, hearing his speech and thinking back over his career, watching him in so many Midsummer Classics, was the perfect alignment of one fan’s cosmos.
His bat was often described more as a magic wand, and it was, waving it wherever he wanted the ball to go. When I visit the Hall’s Gallery these days for inspiration, that is the first plaque I touch. Then Babe.
You probably can relate to this personal day in your own way. Somewhere in the remaining 28 days till Sydney very well could be your boyhood hero, or perhaps your father’s, or maybe it is your own child’s idol on a roster today. Please share, reblog, use the comments below to state your own case as we decide which Opening Day moments to honor while celebrating the return of the National Pastime and a life tradition. Who should be No. 28? MLB Schedule | Tickets – Mark Newman, MLB.com