Dwight Gooden stopped by our MLB.com studios in NYC recently, not long after this countdown began to Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia. I told him we eventually would run into a tough choice at No. 16, where he and Hall of Famer Whitey Ford were a pair of New York legends at the top of the consideration list. Here’s what Doc said about making his first Opening Day start for the Mets in 1985, at only 20 years old in a Cy Young season:
“It was very special to myself, obviously being my first one, being at Shea Stadium. It was Gary Carter’s first game as a Met, and he hit that game-winning home run in the 10th inning. That one sticks out more than anything.
“Once you make the team, you always dream about pitching Opening Day. You have all the ceremony, the World Series atmosphere for that one day. It’s the beginning of a new season. Leading up to the game, the drumming going, you’re trying to keep your emotions ready, and the lineups are introduced on the field, all the pregame ceremony stuff, it’s just a great, great thing to have, and it’s the best part of the season outside of the World Series.”
With that introduction, we fast-forward nearly three decades to 2014. Of all the things we are anticipating in this regular season, probably none is more exciting than the first Opening Day start by Jose Fernandez. The similarities to Gooden’s first Opening Day start are spectacular.
Fernandez is 21, ace of the Marlins staff. Like Gooden, he is making this assignment after having already been an All-Star, National League Rookie of the Year and a top-three Cy Young ballot choice in his first season, recording double-digit wins and electrifying crowds.
Fernandez had a 2.19 ERA, 0.979 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 ratio his first season, compared to Gooden’s 2.60, 1.073 and 11.4, respectively. Each righty led the NL in his first year in hits per 9 innings, Fernandez with just 5.8 hits allowed per game compared to Gooden’s 6.6. While Gooden pitched for a Mets club that was expected by many to contend — winning it all in 1986 — it still will be interesting to see whether his second-year growth is anywhere near that of “Special K,” who followed up his first Opening Day start by going 24-4 and winning the Cy.
On Wednesday, Fernandez whetted our appetites again, holding the Mets to two hits in 3 1/3 shutout innings in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Fernandez is on track to make his Opening Day start on March 31 at home against Colorado, and what a night that will be at Marlins Park. There is a Fireworks Spectacular after the game, there is an All You Can Eat Mondays special still available, and a special pitcher from Cuba will be on the mound.
A new season is just 16 days away, and with that special nod here to Ford, the Yankees’ Chairman of the Board, winningest World Series pitcher and Opening Day fixture, on this day we are taking a look at youngsters past and present, with an NL East excitement level that is sky-high. MLB Schedule | Tickets
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