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Opening Day is warmly regarded in North American tradition as the beginning of a new Major League Baseball season. It falls annually around the beginning of April, signaling such a generational feeling of rebirth for some that the writer Thomas Boswell once penned a book titled, Why Time Begins On Opening Day. Many feel that the occasion represents a newness or a chance to forget last season, in that the 30 major league clubs and their millions of fans begin with 0-0 records.
For generations, Opening Day has arrived amid pageantry. In Cincinnati, Ohio, home of the sport's first professional team, an annual parade marks an unofficial "city holiday" with young and old alike taking the day off to cheer on the Reds. For decades, the first pitch of every major league season officially took place in Cincinnati. Although the past decade has brought the introduction of a Sunday night opening game on ESPN as well as the staging of season-opening series in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Japan, the ensuing Monday brings Opening Day to numerous major league ballparks and the game that day in Cincinnati (the only team that always opens the season at home) is still observed throughout baseball as the "traditional opener." Opening Day is a state of mind as well, with countless baseball fans known to recognize this unofficial holiday as a good reason to call in sick at work or "play hooky" from school and go out to the ballpark for the first of 162 regular season games. Each team's home opener serve as the only regular season games during the year in which the entire rosters of both teams as well as coaches and clubhouse staff are introduced to the crowd (for the rest of the year, ballparks only introduce the starting lineups).
Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, who played for the Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, once said: "An opener is not like any other game. There's that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one, you can't lose 'em all."
Opening Day extends throughout the sport of baseball, to hundreds of minor league baseball franchises as well as to college, high school, youth league fields and in areas far beyond North America. Similarly, there are opening-night performances for new Broadway plays.
Prior to Opening Day, the teams' managers have to decide the starting pitchers for the Opening Day game. This spot is usually given to the teams' ace pitchers, and is usually considered an honor for a pitcher to start on Opening Day. In turn, the pitchers who start on Opening Day are usually recognized throughout the baseball world as their teams' best starting pitchers.
There is a rich history of special events that have occurred on Opening Day, most notably a 1940 no-hitter thrown by Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller, ultimately a Hall of Famer. It remains the only no-hitter in Opening Day history.
Opening Day has been synonymous with United States presidents as well. On April 14, 1910, baseball enthusiast William Howard Taft attended the home opener in Washington D.C., becoming the first U.S. President to throw out the first pitch to start a season. Eleven sitting U.S. presidents have done the same since then. One standout, Harry S. Truman, showcased his ambidextrous talent when he threw out ceremonial first pitches with both his right and left arm in 1950. On April 4, 1994, Bill Clinton inaugurated the Cleveland Indians' new ballpark, Jacobs Field, with the first pitch.
The great Ted Williams was a .449 hitter in openers, with three home runs and fourteen runs batted in during fourteen such games. "Teddy Ballgame" also boasted at least one hit in every Opening Day game in which he appeared.
On April 4, 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves ignited the Opening Day crowd in Cincinnati with his first swing. It resulted in his 714th career home run, tying Babe Ruth on Major League Baseball's all-time list. Aaron would finish his career with 755 homers.
Hall of Famer Walter Johnson was arguably the greatest ballplayer in Opening Day history. In 14 season openers for the Washington Senators, the "Big Train" pitched a record nine shutouts. His two most famous starts include a 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia A's in 1910 and a 1-0 marathon victory while battling the A's Eddie Rommel for 15 innings.
On April 4, 2005, Dmitri Young of the Detroit Tigers hit three home runs in his team's opener against the Kansas City Royals at Detroit's Comerica Park. He became the third major leaguer to homer three times on Opening Day, following the Toronto Blue Jays' George Bell in 1988 and the Chicago Cubs' Tuffy Rhodes in 1994.
The first major league team to open its season with a doubleheader was the Oakland Athletics. They hosted the Chicago White Sox for two games on April 7, 1971, with Chicago winning both times (6-5 and 12-4, respectively).