Edgar Martinez may not be getting the Hall of Fame ballot love so far, but he is getting the Opening Day Countdown love.
We are 11 days away from the start of the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season in Sydney, Australia, and on this day we honor the player who wore that jersey number for his entire career with the Seattle Mariners.
Flash back to April 2, 2001. Playing at home against Oakland, Martinez reached base in all five plate appearances. He was 3-for-3 with two intentional walks, batting in the 3 hole. His RBI single in the seventh scored Ichiro Suzuki to cut the A’s lead to 4-3, the big hit in the game, and Jon Olerud would follow with the game-tying hit. Seattle would win, 5-4.
That was the first of 116 wins that season for the Mariners. No MLB team ever won more.
Who should be No. 10?
Ken Griffey Jr. made his Major League debut for the Mariners on April 3, 1989, doubling in his first at-bat against A’s right-hander Dave Stewart. That Opening Day game in Oakland already has been highlighted once during the countdown to Sydney, back when we featured Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley at No. 43, noting Eck’s first save on the way to his team’s World Series title that year.
So now we’re looking at how that game began — and how it literally all started for one of the greatest players in Major League history. Junior would become the baseball trading card of choice with his famous Upper Deck rookie card above, and ultimately a 13-time All-Star with 630 home runs. But what made us go with him on this day, where Willie Mays — arguably the best all-around player in history, right there with The Bambino at the top of Mount Baseball — made No. 24 iconic? What about Rickey Henderson? Tony Perez? Early Wynn? Or maybe Miguel Cabrera, for a modern megastar?
We honor Junior here because of what he did an incredible 20 years almost to the day since that MLB debut. Take another look at this MLB.com video and let all those years wash over you again. . . .
It was April 6, 2009, fifth inning at Minnesota, last Opening Day ever at the Metrodome, and a 2-2 pitch from lefty Francisco Liriano. Griffey — then 39 years old, returning to his original club after a long stint with Cincinnati and then the White Sox — lined it into the seats in right. It tied the great Frank Robinson (perhaps our No. 20 in four days?) for most Opening Day homers with eight (612th overall). Said Junior, who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016: “It is quite an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Frank.”
Opening Day Magic. Classic Griffey.
Now we look ahead to another Opening Day in the national pastime. The 2014 Mariners open the regular season March 31 on the road against the Angels, and then the two clubs meet again in Seattle’s home opener on April 8. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 23?
When Ichiro Suzuki joined the Seattle Mariners after a career in Japan, there were questions about how well his game and his modest frame would translate in Major League Baseball. Well, Ichiro began answering those questions right away. In front of 45,911 Opening Day fans at Safeco Field on April 2, 2001, he made his debut and led off with a single up the middle in the seventh to start a comeback that would result in a 5-4 Seattle victory over Oakland.
Ichiro never stopped reaching base and drawing loud ovations, either. He finished that season with a rookie-record 242 hits, the most by any player since 1930. Take a look at the MLB.com video and there is one especially poignant scene now. He is greeted at first base by Jason Giambi, the first of so many of those first-base conversations Ichiro would have with players at that position. Fast-forward to 2014, and both stars are still in the game playing a role for American League contenders — Ichiro with the Yankees (as No. 31 now, because Bernie Williams was 51 in pinstripes) and Giambi with the Indians. 2014 MLB Schedule | Tickets