Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Opening Day - A Family Tradition

There's something to be said for Spring Training, but Opening Day is when it all becomes real. Spring Training is a time for defrosting from a long cold baseball-less winter, warming up the muscles and gearing up for the season. But somewhere in the third or fourth week of March, the meaninglessness of the spring games set in, and baseball fans turn their sights towards Opening Day. Opening Day is when it all starts to matter, that's when we start keeping score. Filled with all the pomp and circumstance of a playoff atmosphere, the slate is wiped clean. Everyone has a renewed chance to compete for the right to play in October. No matter who your team is, there is a glimmer of hope, if only for a moment.

Opening Day is a Percell family tradition, at least for those of us in the mountain time zone.

It all started on April 9, 1993. Finally Major League Baseball was in Colorado. No more road trips across the nothingness of Kansas to see the "nearest-to" home team Kansas City Royals. Baseball was right here in our own backyard. I was in middle school at the time. My family bought 8 tickets so my two brothers and I could each take a friend along with my parents (Pictured Left to Right: Terri Coffan, Jay Percell, Mike Lotz, John (JT) Percell, Jerry Percell, Faith Percell, Jeff Percell, Gabe Ribas). We gathered with more than 80,000 of our closest friends in Mile High Stadium to celebrate my mom's birthday and the fact that we finally had a team of our own - the Colorado Rockies. Perhaps the most memorable part of the game was when Eric Young (Sr. as we now refer to him, pictured left) belted a lead-off home run off (then-soon-to-be Rockies pitcher) Kent Bottenfield.

That set the precedent. From then on, while not recognized by the federal government, Opening Day would be a holiday in the Percell Family.

April 26th, 1995 is another Opening Day's that will stand out above the rest. Coors Field had just been built and the Rockies had moved out of the massive football stadium that was Mile High. No one will recall the first time the Rockies played in Coors Field, as it came about a month before Opening Day in a two game end of Spring Training exhibition series with the New York Yankees using scab players, as the Players Union was on strike. Just before the season was to start with the replacement players, the union and owners settled their differences. The season was pushed back a month, so the real players could have a shortened Spring Training and Opening Day was set for April 26th that year.
My dad was out of town on business that week, returning to Denver on April 26th. It was snowing that day. Jay (my older brother) and I were both at Centaurus High School preparing to have baseball practice in the school gymnasium, when my mom called the school asking that we be dismissed from practice. My dad had flown into town and headed straight downtown, expecting to be able to find reasonably-priced seats on the street considering the weather. "I love it when a plan comes together." That was a cold, snowing off and then on again, night. Dante Bichette ended the game in walk-off fashion, blasting a 3-run home run in the bottom of the 14th inning. (Pictured Left to Right: Jay, JT, Jeff)

Since then, there have been many other birthdays celebrated at Coors Field - my wife's birthday is April 4th, and she married into the tradition. There was one other walk-off home run, Clint Barmes in 2005. Friday, we'll be celebrating JT and my birthdays (a few days belated) at Coors Field.

Happy Opening Day everyone, and don't forget to set your fantasy baseball lineups!

(Opening Day Lineups 4/9/1993)

(Opening Day 4/4/2005: Jeff and Jerry)

(Opening Day 4/3/2006: Jerry, Faith, Rachel, and Jeff)

(Opening Day 4/2/2007: Rachel, Isabelle [1st Regular Season Game], and Jeff)

(Opening Day 4/9/2010: Faith, JT, and Jerry)

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."
- A. Bartlett Giamatti


  1. Classic post! Those pictures are some winners!
    Happy Opening Day, everybody!!!!

  2. The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, it's a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

  3. I remember bringing a friend to your house years ago. He noticed the field nearby and wondered if he might be able to find a baseball in the house. I believe he was supplied with an entire bucket in ten seconds! Next year is here!! Nicole

  4. What an exageration, Nicole. It couldn't have been anywhere close to ten seconds. New dirt on those fields this week to replace what blew away to Kansas over the winter. Now if we could just get enough moisture to green up the grass. PLAY BALL!

  5. Nothing like the smell of well oiled leather, fresh cut grass and the sweet sound of the crack of the bat.

  6. I didn't make it to opening day, but I did take a slightly long/late lunch to watch the first 2 innings of the Royals/Angels.

  7. Grrrrrrrrreat site! This actually inspired me to watch the Cubbies game today (well, before I had to take Uncle Steve to a dr. appt.) Looks like Cubbies is all I'll get to watch on tv. I don't have specialty cable, like some folks I know ;-) But you know I won't be keeping up that well :-\
    LOVED the ancient photos!

  8. I object to "ancient" photos. They are all within my lifetime. I'm not ancient, am I?