Way back in 1882, the Cincinnati Red Stockings began their inaugural American Association campaign with a 10-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys at Bank Street Grounds, just a few blocks from where Crosley Field would later be built. That ‘82 lineup featured a Pop, a Bid, a Chick, a Hick, a Tug, and two Harrys, and would later eschew their 0-1 start to the season to finish 55-25, good enough for first place.
Since then, Opening Day in Cincinnati has become one of the great spectacles in Major League Baseball, with the Reds always hosting home games and the Findlay Market Parade bringing thousands into the streets in celebration. Even though the MLB schedule-makers threw a wrench into the usual celebration by bumping Opening Day up to a Thursday in March this year (with the parade now happening prior to the fourth game of the season), it’s still a day that truly turns the page on our mental calendars to spring, one that signals that baseball will be our daily refuge for the next six plus months - even if it’s cold and pouring down rain.
130+ years worth of Opening Day history in Cincinnati has its fair share of memorable, memorable moments, as you’d expect. Here are some of the best pieces and highlights of Opening Day history that Cincinnati can call its own.
April 8th, 1991
Opening Day in 1991 was always going to be special because it was the first game the Cincinnati Reds had played since claiming the 5th World Series title in team history in 1990. The Reds hosted the Houston Astros, Tom Browning got the start, Barry Larkin sparked the offense with a homer, and Rob Dibble shut the door with the save in a 6-2 Reds victory.
The World Series celebration made it special, but the win itself made this particular Opening Day historic. It marked the 9th consecutive victory in an Opening Day game for the Reds dating back to 1983, and that win streak still marks the single longest in MLB history in such games.
The Detroit Tigers have since tied that mark, and their streak is currently still going. That means they’ll have a chance to set the record at 10 with a win on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. For now, though, it’s yet another way the Reds are tied to history.
The Judge, Big Donkey, and Junior
This is less about one particular Opening Day, and more about a trio of former Reds who together lay claim to an impressive Opening Day honor.
Each of Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Adam Dunn managed to carve out lengthy careers with the Cincinnati Reds, ranking 2nd (Robinson - 324), 4th (Dunn - 270), and 9th (Griffey, Jr. - 210) on the franchise’s career home run list. While they hardly isolated their homer-crushing to Opening Day games, they each managed to swat eight career Opening Day dingers, which is more than any other player in MLB history has managed.
Not all of their Opening Day homers came with the Reds, and none of the three spent their entire careers in Cincinnati, of course. However, it’s pretty remarkable that of the thousands and thousands of players who’ve played in MLB, the three with the most Opening Day homers in history all had significant ties to Cincinnati.
April 4th, 1974
You’re probably quite familiar with the first game of the 1974 season, and no, it’s not because it was Merv Rettenmund’s first start for the Reds in center field after the offseason trade that brought him over from the Baltimore Orioles. The Reds managed a 7-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the Bottom of the 11th when Pete Rose scored on a Buzz Capra wild pitch, and while that’s certainly exciting, that’s probably not why you remember this game, either.
Jack Billingham got the start for the Reds that day, and opened the Top of the 1st with a walk to Ralph Garr that - you guessed it - eventually haunted him. Two batters later, Hank Aaron stepped into the batter’s box and clubbed a 3-run homer over the 375 ft mark on the left field wall in Riverfront Stadium, giving the Braves an early 3-0 lead.
Aaron’s 1st homer of the 1974 season was the 714th of his amazing career, which tied him with Babe Ruth for the all-time MLB record at the time. With Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, and Phil Niekro all playing alongside Aaron in this game - and with Hall of Famers Sparky Anderson and Eddie Mathews the respective teams’ managers - it was a grouping that certainly fit the celebratory occasion, and it’s hard to imagine a more famous home run that’s ever been hit in the city. (Oh, and Merv Rettenmund sure played some mean center field for the Reds that day.)
April 4th, 2005
After finally, mercifully giving up on the failed Brandon Larson experiment after the 2004 season and opting to use Ryan Freel in roles all over the field, the Cincinnati Reds were in need of a new 3B. That December saw them sign former Kansas City Royals 3B Joe Randa just three days after his 35th birthday, a move by General Manager Dan O’Brien that had some of us scratching our heads.
Of course, Randa wasted little time in cementing his name in Cincinnati lore, and I’d wager that there’s not a player in the illustrious history of the Reds franchise with a bigger reputation after having played in only 92 career games with the club.
The Reds entered the Bottom of the 9th trailing the New York 6-4, as a stacked Mets lineup featuring Jose Reyes, Mike Piazza, Carlos Beltran, Cliff Floyd, and David Wright had backed starter Pedro Martinez enough to be in the driver’s seat. However, closer Braden Looper failed to record a single out in the 9th, allowing a single to Austin Kearns and a 2-run, game-tying homer to Adam Dunn - one of those eight Opening Day smashes we spoke of earlier. That brought up Randa, and when Looper fed him a 92 mph meatball right over the plate on a 3-2 count, the newly minted Red crushed it over the left field wall for a walk-off Cincinnati victory.
Not only was it quite the way to introduce yourself to new fans in a new city, it also marked the first time in the history of the Reds that they’d won an Opening Day game on a walk-off homer. Randa’s time in Cincinnati was short - he was traded to the San Diego Padres after those 92 games for Justin Germano and Travis Chick - but there’s not a Reds fan who witnessed his first homer with the club who’ll ever forget Joe Randa.