The 2014 Major League Baseball regular season begins on Saturday with the Opening Series in Sydney, Australia, and five days out we give a standing ovation in our hearts to Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Hank Greenberg and Lou Boudreau. We remember all those times going to the ballpark to watch Nomar Garciaparra at Fenway and Jeff Bagwell in Houston. We think of Opening Days past and present for National Leaguers in uniform now: David Wright, Carlos Gonzalez and Freddie Freeman. Continue reading
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?
April 5, 1999. Vlad Guerrero’s first at-bat of the season is a two-run homer off Francisco Cordova in the first inning at Pittsburgh, leading the Montreal Expos to a 9-2 victory. Guerrero goes 3-for-5 with 4 RBIs en route to his first All-Star selection.
April 3, 2000. Guerrero’s first at-bat of the season is an RBI single off Dodgers starter Kevin Brown. Guerrero then hits his first two of 44 homers that season, a 2-run shot and a solo homer — accounting for all the Montreal runs in a 10-4 loss at Olympic Stadium.
April 2, 2001. Top of the 10th, Expos and Cubs tied, 4-4, in front of an Opening Day crowd of 38,466 at Wrigley Field. Two out, Montreal has men at the corners. Guerrero comes to the plate. Cubs manager Don Baylor brings right-hander Todd Van Poppel in to replace Mark Fyhrie to keep it tied. Guerrero singles to center on a 3-1 pitch to drive in Jose Vidro with the eventual winning run.
April 2, 2002. Guerrero leads the Majors with an incredible 709 plate appearances in this season, the first five on this Opening Day at Montreal against the Marlins. Braden Looper comes in to protect a 6-4 Marlins lead. With two out and men at the corners, Vidro hits a two-run single to tie the score. That brings up Guerrero, who is already 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs. In the ultimate show of Opening Day respect, Marlins manager Jeff Torborg has Looper intentionally walk Guerrero to load the bases, and Orlando Cabrera promptly wins the game with a walk-off single.
You get the idea. There was a lot of that damage and disruption going on when Guerrero was in the lineup on Opening Day, and you didn’t even think about running on his cannon arm in right, either. The 2004 National League MVP finished his marvelous career with 449 homers, 2,590 hits and a 140 OPS+, helping the Rangers to a World Series in 2010, officially announcing his retirement last September after a career with the Expos, Angels, Rangers and Orioles. He turned 39 this month and is already a missed presence on the field — one of the most exciting players of his time.
Here was the first homer he ever hit, in 1996:
Here was his arm:
Angels fans will remember this one well . . .
So that’s our pick today as we are 27 days away from MLB Opening Series March 22-23 in Sydney — now inside a month away. As for a certain other Dominican who is already in the Hall of Fame, we raise our cap — and our leg kick — high on this day for the great Juan Marichal, who was 6-2 with two no-decisions in 10 Opening Days for the Giants. Carlton Fisk was a Hall of Fame fixture as 27 for Boston, so good that he wound up with a retired 72 as well with the White Sox. There was Scott Rolen and that amazing WAR, leading St. Louis to the championship in 2006. And Mike Trout, we can’t wait to see him March 31 against the visiting Mariners, now that he has one Opening Day under his belt last year.