My favorite Opening Day memory of all time is from a full decade ago.
On Monday, March 31, 2008, I left school a little early to make it to Safeco for the 3:45pm start time between the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers. A year after an 88-74 season (Pythagorean record be damned!), the Mariners were going for it after trading a passel of prospects for Opening Day starter Erik Bedard. And three hours later, after Bedard threw five innings and allowed just one run to lead the M’s to a 5-2 win, I felt damn good about the season to come.
We all know how that went.
But here we are, in 2018. Ten Opening Days have come and gone since then, all started by Felix Hernandez. For 10 years, we’ve hibernated for months only to come out of our slumber for King Felix. No matter how bleak things have been, no matter how adrift the franchise has seemed at times, Felix has been ours and no, you can’t have him.
Maybe that’s what made today’s 2-1 victory over Cleveland so satisfying. No, vintage Felix wasn’t making an appearance. This wasn’t the utterly dominant, in-your-face Felix that we’ve seen before. But this was New Felix (not to be confused with New Coke), an ace with guile and smarts and some nasty offspeed stuff. Pitches were dipping and diving, hitters were swinging through 92 MPH fastballs, and the King, in his 13th big league season, was even showing off new tricks.
In the end, Felix lasted 5.1 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and walking two while striking out four. He induced weak contact throughout, from harmless groundouts to pretty easy pop flies. He wasn’t Cy Young-winning Felix, but he was certainly All-Star Felix.
There were certainly other highlights as well. Nelson Cruz took Corey Kluber deep in the first and it was glorious.
After Felix’s early exit (he’s still rounding into form after that comebacker stunted his prep work this spring), five relievers combined to shut the door the rest of the way. Dan Altavilla induced a critical double play when he came in, Marc Rzepczynski did his LOOGY best, Nick Vincent gave us a fright by allowing three hits but we lived, and then Juan Nicasio looked sharp in his one inning of work.
Edwin Diaz, on the other hand? More than a little scary. Two hit by pitches, a balk, and a couple steals/catcher’s indifferences gave Cleveland runners on second and third with two outs. For Sugar, however, that’s no big deal.
But all that brings me back to Felix, and back to the whole beauty of Opening Day. Baseball is a long season. It’s a six-month-long grind, with games almost every day, and its ebbs and flows allow you to appreciate the little things. You don’t follow a baseball team only because it’s supposed to be good. You follow it for the journey that’s involved.
Opening Day, therefore, is the spark for that journey. It’s the day to give you hope and energize you for the year to come. No, the Mariners aren’t going to win every single game they play this season (hot taek alert), and no, Felix Hernandez isn’t going to be this good every single start.
But for 10 years now, we’ve been able to witness our own greatness every single Opening Day. And that’s pretty neat.
For me personally, it’s been six years since I was last in Seattle for Opening Day, and seven years since I was in Safeco for it. My fandom has grown from afar for much of each ensuing season. Through it all — through my time at college and the years after, through all sorts of changes — there has been Felix, welcoming me every baseball season with a smile and a fist pump and el cambio.
And that’s why this year, Opening Day was just plain ol’ perfect.