Opening Day

I went to my first Opening Day in 1985. The Brewers played host to the Chicago White Sox at County Stadium. It was a cold, clear day in Milwaukee, getting all the way up to 37 degrees. My best friend Jerry and I took the bus to the stadium. It was the first time that we had gone to a game without an adult with us. His dad made sure we knew the route and dropped us off at the bus stop.

We got to the stadium early enough to catch batting practice. We tried to snag foul balls down the left field line like we always did, and as always, we came up empty. Once batting practice ended, we took our seats along with 53,025 other crazed fans.

The Brewers were led by George Bamberger in his second stint as their manager. Tony La Russa was in his seventh year at the helm of the White Sox. The pitching matchup featured Hall of Famer Tom Seaver starting his second season with the White Sox against Brewer veteran Moose Haas.

Ozzie Guillen started his Rookie of the Year campaign with a flyout to Ben Oglivie in right field. Rudy Law reached on an error by Jim Gantner, then Haas walked Harold Baines. Greg Walker made the Brewers pay for the error with a single to center that scored Law and moved Baines to third. Ron Kittle hit a ground ball to Paul Molitor at third, who got a force out at second, but Baines scored on the play. Luis Salazar reached on Gantner’s second error of the inning before Daryl Boston popped out to Molitor in foul ground.

Seaver had a great game, keeping the Brewers off the board through six innings. The White Sox tacked on a run with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth inning, giving them a 3-0 lead.

It looked like Seaver was going to cruise through the seventh inning as well. Cecil Cooper flied out to left field and Oglivie grounded out to second before Ted Simmons started a two-out rally with a single to left. Doug Loman followed that up with a double to left field, moving Simmons to third. Seaver then unleashed two wild pitches with Bill Schroeder at the plate, the first scoring Simmons and the second scoring Loman. Bob James came in to replace Seaver and got Gantner to ground out to first to end the inning with the Brewers drawing to within 3-2.

Haas got the first two outs in the eight before Salazar bunted one back to the mound. Haas threw the ball away and Salazar ended up on second. Boston drove him in to extend the lead to 4-2. Haas induced a ground ball to first to end the inning.

That was it for the scoring as the Brewers fell on Opening Day. Haas pitched 8 innings, giving up 4 runs, 1 earned, while striking out 5. Simmons went 2-4 with a double and a run scored and Loman went 1-4 with a double and a run scored. Molitor and Brian Giles each had a stolen base. Unfortunately, the Brewers had 5 errors, which is not the way you want to start the season.

After the game, Jerry and I got back on the bus and made it home safely. We enjoyed our day at the ballpark with the largest crowd we had ever been in. It was a fun day, even though the Brewers lost. Baseball was back, and all was right with the world.

That game marked the first of 12 straight Opening Days for me. The group got larger, and we started to tailgate before and after the game. Most of them were cold and rainy, but the weather never dampened the mood. The Brewers won five and lost seven of those Opening Days.

What I remember more than the outcomes is being with my friends. In 1987, one of my friends got Dan Plesac’s autograph for me on the back of my ticket stub. Another one of my friends singed his eyebrows when the grill flared up during the tailgate. And then there was the year that I invited my sister, her boyfriend, and her ex-boyfriend. She ended up getting back together with her ex, they got married and have three kids and I take credit for all of that.

Opening Day is a magical holiday in Milwaukee. The tailgate parties start early, the stadium is full, and optimism is at an all-time high. After over five months without baseball, this is the day we finally hear that familiar call.

“Play ball!”

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