How do you describe it? Where do you begin? There were tuba players in center field. There was Mark Fidrych playing catch with the governor. There was a home run off the first pitch.
There was Kirk Gibson slamming a ball into the bleachers and Jack Morris striking out Wade Boggs with the bases loaded and Kirk Gibson slamming another
ball into the bleachers. There was young Darnell Coles, on his first Opening Day, scoring a run and waving his fists like a cheerleader. There was a guy walking around in an orange cape and painted whiskers.
There were ice cream sticks and peanut shells and spilled beer. And auto workers and mayors and kids cutting school. There were old ladies and stockbrokers and guys with their shirts off in the bleachers screaming and screaming. And all that tied them together — all of them, from every corner of Tiger Stadium — were their eyes.
Their eyes were on one thing. The only thing. It was Opening Day. Follow that baseball.
They followed it from Morris’ arm to Dwight Evans’ bat: home run, first pitch of 1986. They followed it from Gibson’s bat to the outfield seats in the seventh inning: home run, his second of the game. They followed it from Willie Hernandez’s arm to Lance Parrish’s mitt: strike three! End of game. We win. Let’s party.
A winter of looking at footballs and hockey pucks was suddenly forgotten. For a few hours Monday afternoon the only ball in the world was white with red seams on it, the only numbers worth counting were one through four, and the only thing that mattered was staying a run ahead of the team from Boston.
How do you describe it? Here’s how you describe it. Opening Day. Morris wins it. Hernandez saves it. Gibson is the hero.
Tigers 6, Red Sox 5.
Welcome back. And what an entrance
All right. Count to 10. Tell yourself this was only one of 162, that things change, that the Tigers won their opener last year, too.
And if you still feel giddy, the hell with it.
That’s what you’re supposed to feel. This was Opening Day! The first song of a rock ‘n’ roll show. The first firecracker in a mile-long string. Monday afternoons are usually reserved for slumping over your desk with a cup of coffee. But once a year baseball rides in. And what an entrance!
For years to come, this one will be remembered as Kirk Gibson’s afternoon delight. “He’s the story of Opening Day 1986,” as Jack Morris put it.
Unstoppable? That’s a good word. He went four-for-four, hit two homers, knocked in five runs and saved the day for Morris, his team and the crowd. Every time the Tigers fell behind, Gibson simply whacked them back into it.
“When he passed me after his second home run, he said, ‘Now damn it Jack, hold ’em! ‘ ” Morris said. Actually it was up to relief pitchers. But that’s a neat story. And there were others:
Like Coles, 23, who was jabbering nervously before the game — “I’m not nervous, I’m not nervous” — getting two hits and a slap of confidence in his first Tigers game that counted.
And Darrell Evans, the veteran home run king, who got up Monday morning not knowing if he would start. He found out that he would. “A pleasant surprise,” he said later, ever calm, ever polite. But even a man of 38 can get juiced up on his first hit of the year, especially when he scores on a triple by Dave Collins.
Oh, and what about Collins? New face. Got two hits. And Larry Herndon, two hits as well. Seven of nine Tigers batters got at least one hit.
And there was Sparky Anderson, after the victory, smoking his pipe and saying to a microphone, “This team has more talent than 1984. . . . “
Opening Day, remember? Anything’s possible. Gibson batting 1.000 So Tigers fans woke up today and the coffee tasted better. And the temptation is to draw conclusions. Gibby will win the MVP award. And Coles will be the third basemen forever. And the pennant is merely a brass ring with a Motown insignia on it. Isn’t it?
But wait. Don’t rush. Savor the taste of this instead, the funny overtones of Opening Day, for they will disappear all too quickly.
Like Gibson batting 1.000 for the season. Or the Tigers being undefeated. Silly. But it makes you feel . . . new. Like a warm bath after a cold night. And that’s what Opening Day is about, right?
That’s what it provided. When the thousands finally streamed out of Tiger Stadium — the lawyers, the grandmothers, the teenagers with braces on their teeth — you could see it on their faces.
Things will return to normal. Bills will be waiting in the mailbox. The kids will catch spring colds. It’ll probably snow again. But that’s OK. For a few moments Monday afternoon, everyone was nine years old with a glove on one hand and an ice cream bar in the other.
How do you describe it? Maybe this simply. The home team won. And it felt pretty darn nice.