There’s nothing quite like the start of a fresh new baseball season where “hope springs eternal”, “good pitching will always beat good hitting’ and, of course, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.“ The outfield grass smells clean and green (even if it’s artificial turf), the cracking sound of batting practice is both hypnotic and symphonic and every team is tied for first place. Opening Day is a symbol of renewal, opportunity, redemption. Abner Doubleday, we thank you, kind sir.
For those of us in the vintage category, we vividly remember when Canada’s second Major League Baseball team made their snowy Exhibition Stadium debut in 1977. Sure, we had the Montreal Expos and loved every second simultaneously cheering for and swearing at the likes of Ron Fairly, Steve Rogers, Spaceman Lee and John Boc-ca-BELL-A! But that was the National League; the senior circuit. We now had a team in the American League so it was time to root-root-root for the Blue Jays.
Looking back at the opening day roster, it actually surprises me that virtually none of the starters will resonate with Toronto baseball fans today. At the time, they all seemed so important and on that historic day, so long ago, the outfield may as well have been made up of Willie, Mickey and the Duke. We were that jacked. But I guess, like everything else, time has a way of tainting some of those important memories and admittedly the names seem pretty insignificant now. However, with the 2018 season upon us, I’m going to indulge myself in some sandlot nostalgia so here is your opening day roster from way back on April 7th, 1977, under the gentle guidance of Manager ROY HARTSFIELD. Cue the stadium announcer, please
Leading off, the first player to ever swing a Blue Jay bat, left fielder JOHN SCOTT.
Batting second, shortstop HECTOR TORRES, who in later games would hit the Jays first ever grand slam off of Ron Guidry, the Yankees Louisiana Lightning, no less.
Hitting third, first baseman DOUG AULT, who not only hit the franchise’s first homerun in his initial at-bat, but followed it up with a second shot in the third.
Cleaning-up, OTTO (THE SWATTO) VELEZ, my personal favourite Jay of all time. The Swatto once hit 4 home runs in a double-header. (Yes, we had double-headers. They were awesome)
Batting fifth, center fielder GARY WOODS, followed by right fielder STEVE BOWLING, the only starter not to register a hit on opening day.
Rounding out the bottom of the order were second baseman PEDRO GARCIA, who chipped in with three hits, Canadian third baseman DAVE McKAY and finally catcher RICK CERONE in the ninth spot.
I know they’re not exactly household names now but they sure were back then, especially after they won that opening match against the Chicago White Sox by a score of 9-7. Heroes, all. Other notables included Alvis Woods, who hit the first ever Blue Jays pinch hit home run in the fifth, pitcher Jerry Johnson with the win in relief, and Pete Vuckovich with the team’s first save. One game in the books. One game for the books.
So maybe those names have been long forgotten and maybe they did finish 45.5 games behind the New York Yankees in 1977, but I believe that all those original players and coaches deserve a subtle tip of the cap as we begin another campaign. They did their best and they provided some of us with memories we’ll hopefully never forget. Fast-forward to 2018.
OK Blue Jays. Let’s Play Ball.