Opening Day Memory

Editor’s Note: When BRM introduced the fan guest post idea, it was to bring forward reaction and thoughts from Reds fans other than those from our staff of writers. While we writers have a tendency to become bogged down with stats, battles for roster sports and the occasional blurb made by a public figure, what I wanted to bring out was just that raw insight from the heart. This piece, authored by Scott Shrewsberry, provides that raw insight.

The crux of Scott’s post will bear itself out as you read it. I was left with a feeling that I hope you will hold as well.

It has been well documented that Opening Day in Cincinnati is unlike any other in Major League Baseball. Parades and celebrations before the game give an almost “rite of passage” for children to skip school, adults to call in sick from work and senior citizens to tell stories of by-gone years. Opening Day in Cincinnati is synonomis with baseball. Almost as much as Derby Day is to Louisville, KY or how the start of Oktoberfest is to Munich, Germany. It’s a day of anew; a day to let fans know that “The Boys of Summer” are back in town; a day that starts a grueling campain of 162 games; a day of hope for a successful season, but most of all it’s a little escape for all from the discomfort that everyday life can spring upon us on occasion.

That dismay was never more true than on April 1st, 1996.

When Blog Red Machine asked for Opening Day memories, I wanted to write about the opening of Great American Ballpark or the debut of Ken Griffey Jr. in a Reds uniform. Both were tremendous, feel good stories of hope and excitement. However, I couldn’t help but think about the day when home plate umpire John McSherry collapsed and died moments after the first pitch at Riverfront Stadium thus postponing Opening Day for the Queen City.

I was a Freshman in college at the time. The Redlegs were to play the Montreal Expos. I couldn’t wait until my afternoon class was over, so I could dial in the very faint WLW radio broadcast and catch a few innings of the game. For some reason I could not pick up even the slightest signal that day, so I had to wait until that evenings sports news to find out who had won. Much to my surprise, not only did I find out that no game had been played, but that a death had occurred on the field.

Only seven pitches into the game, Mr. McSherry had called time, turned and started walking toward the dugout, then fell to the ground. Paramedics tried to revive him on the field to no avail. He was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead roughly 54 minutes after the fact from an apparent heart attack. He was only 51 years old. What a casualty to be bestowed on a well respected man and the family of this veteran umpire.

Sure, I was a little disappointed that no game had been played, as I’m sure most of the 50,000+ fans in attendance were, but I think it put into perspective that this is just a game that we all enjoy watching and participating in. Sometimes tragedies happen in a way that prioritize what is truly important. Granted the game was played the next day (Reds won 4-1), but it’s not the end of the world if Joey Votto goes 0-4 with 3 K’s or if Johnny Cueto goes on the 15 day DL.

I, myself, have never been to an Opening Day game in Cincinnati. Or for that matter any Opening Day game. I would love to be able to attend one at some point before my time on this Earth is finished, but if I don’t get to attend GABP for the first game of a new year…. no big deal. There are greater tragedies that could bequeath me.

So, in closing. Let’s hope that an event of this magnitude never again happens on the baseball diamond. Here’s to a safe, successful, prosperous and healthy new baseball year. Let’s go Redlegs and let’s PLAYBALL!!!!
Yes, this is a somber piece. No, we’re trying to downplay how important Opening Day is to baseball fans all over the country, especially to the great city of Cincinnati where Opening Day should be made into a holiday (that’s another post!). Just trying to bring a little bit of levity. Nothing more. Check out this link, courtesy the Newark Advocate, and recall your Opening Day memories.