Opening day buzz reminiscent of 1991
There is nothing in baseball like opening day. It's the start of a new season, and after a long spring training players and fans are ready to get the season started.
The fanfare is always special. Someone famous is there to throw out the first pitch. Someone famous is there to sing the national anthem. The crowd is usually at capacity, and there's an excitement in the air that can't be repeated during the long, hot summer.
This year's opening day for the Atlanta Braves was even more special. There was an energy at Turner Field, even before the game started, that made you feel it was going to be a good day.
Fans were tailgating, just like they do in Athens during the fall on Saturday mornings. And after a cold winter, the weather was perfect, with the temperature in the mid-80s.
The Braves were playing the Chicago Cubs, and when the Cubs are in town the crowd is usually split. The Cubs are still on national television, so they have a huge following.
And while there were a lot of Cubs fans at Turner Field Monday, it was nothing like it usually is when they are in Atlanta. Braves fans showed up for the opener, and what a fun time they had.
The fans knew it was Bobby Cox's last opening day as manager, but there was a bigger reason they showed up. It was obvious fans went because they want to be able to say they were there for Jason Heyward's first game as a big leaguer.
They want to be able to say, "You know I was there that day he made his debut." And years from now, they'll also be able to say, "You know I was there that day and saw Heyward hit that long home run."
From the moment Heyward stepped out of the on deck circle and headed toward the plate for his first big league at bat, the crowd started. Some just cheered, and most stood up to welcome this hometown kid to the big leagues.
But then something started in right field. Fans out there started that chant. Ja-son Hey-ward… Ja-son Hey-ward.
The Yankees fans do it every game. It's called the roll call. If you've ever been to Yankee Stadium, you've heard it. The fans chant every player's name and they don't stop until the player turns around and acknowledges them.
So there was Heyward facing hard-throwing Carlos Zambrano. And then… boom. A rocket shot to right field.
The crowd went nuts. You no longer heard the chant anymore. It was just a crowd of people taking in the moment and screaming to the top of their lungs.
The Braves scored 16 runs on Monday. Heyward drove in four, while Yunel Escobar, the guy ahead of Heyward in the lineup, drove in five. Brian McCann hit a long home run. Nate McLouth made a couple of great catches.
It was a great day.
The energy in Turner Field reminded me of 1991. Remember that magical season when the Braves went from worst to first? There were some games that year at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, particular against the Dodgers, that just had this indescribable energy.
You almost had to be there to understand it. You had to be in that round stadium, with the tomahawk chant and chops making it hard to hear yourself think, to know how special it was that year.
The Braves have lost that energy somewhere along the way. It probably got to be routine to go to a Braves game, whereas in 1991 when everyone was jumping on the bandwagon it became the thing to do.
But now Heyward, who grew up 30 miles south of Turner Field, is going to make it fun to go watch the Braves again.
If one-tenth of that energy from Monday can be in that stadium for the next 80 games, it could be a special season.
And when Heyward comes up to the plate, the Earth will stand still and everyone will watch to see how far the ball might go if he makes contact.
Then you'll be able to hear the chant… Ja-son Hey-ward… Ja-son Hey-ward.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Atlanta Baseball Show. Shanks writes a weekly column for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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