From Clayton Kershaw to Ken Griffey Jr.: 10 memorable opening day moments from the 2000s

Mike Oz and Mark Townsend
·7-min read

The internet is filled with lists of the most classic opening day moments. In many cases, if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. This is not one of those lists.

Hank Aaron hit homer 714 on opening day. Bob Feller threw a no-hitter. Jackie Robinson made his debut. These moments are iconic and historic, no doubt. But what’s happened in more recent opening days that’s worth remembering? Now there’s a list worth putting together.

As we long for the familiarity and fun of opening day — just like the rest of you — we started to think about the best opening day moments in recent history. In this case, we’re looking at anything that happened in the 2000s. Here are 10 that stood out:

Clayton Kershaw does it all

Back in 2013, when Clayton Kershaw still had that best-pitcher-on-the-planet mojo, he crafted a moment that not many others have been able to duplicate.

Against the rival San Francisco Giants, Kershaw threw a shutout, striking out seven and, in the twist of all this, hit an eighth-inning homer off George Kontos that broke a 0-0 tie. The Dodgers went on to win 4-0 after a few insurance runs. But this one? It was all about Kershaw.

Mark Buehrle’s no-look glove flip

When Mark Buehrle took the ball, Chicago White Sox always knew there was a chance they'd see something special. In 2009, the crafty lefty delivered just that when he pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

As memorable as that was though, there's one image that baseball fans tend to remember even more fondly: Buehrle's no-look glove flip on opening day in 2010.

Buehrle tossed seven scoreless innings that afternoon as the White Sox beat the Indians 6-0. But he really stole the show when Lou Marson's fifth-inning grounder bounced off of his left leg, forcing him to chase the ball into foul territory and improvise with a no-look glove-flip between his legs. Adding to the beauty of this play was Paul Konerko's barehanded catch of glove toss.

Jason Heyward homers in his first at-bat

Jason Heyward entered the 2010 season with all hype. He was named the No. 1 prospect in baseball. He made the opening day roster even though he’d only played 50 games above Single-A. And then? Then he delivered.

He hit a three-run homer in his first MLB at-bat. This came after he caught the first pitch from Hank Aaron. Talk about a debut. It was more like a dream come true.

Dmitri Young hits three homers

Dmitri Young's 2005 season started with a bang-bang-bang. The Detroit Tigers slugger launched a trio of opening day home runs in an 11-2 win against the Kansas City Royals. In doing so, Young became only the third player in MLB history to hit three homers in a season opener. George Bell of Toronto Blue Jays was first in 1988. In 1994, Chicago Cubs outfielder Tuffy Rhodes became the second. Matt Davidson of the Chicago White Sox followed with the fourth homer hat trick in 2018.

Hall of Famer and Tigers legend Al Kaline called it "The best opening day I've ever seen anybody have." It's certainly in the conversation. Young's big day also included a single and a hit-by-pitch. He drove in a career-high five runs.

Ichiro goes home

Nobody took baseball by storm quite like Ichiro. By 2012, when the Mariners opened their season in Japan, Ichiro was a star in the U.S. and had full-on icon status back home. It was his first time playing in Japan with an MLB team and he thrived in the moment. He had four hits, including an RBI, as 44,000 people filled the Tokyo Dome for his homecoming and created Ichiro-mania as the Mariners won in extra innings.

It wasn’t your traditional opening day, but don’t tell the Ichiro fans that.

Ken Griffey Jr. homers in Mariners return

You can come home again. After starting his career and building his legacy in Seattle, Ken Griffey Jr. was traded to the Cincinnati Reds before the 2000 season. Nine years later, he was back with the Mariners for a memorable opening day moment.

In his second at-bat of the 2009 season, Griffey homered off Twins’ left-hander Francisco Liriano at the Metrodome in Minnesota. In the process, Griffey tied Frank Robinson for the most opening day home runs with eight. Adam Dunn joined that group three years later.

One week later, Griffey homered again in his second Seattle home game since 1999.

The Big Unit throws a 130-pitch shutout

You probably wouldn’t see this one in 2020, but then again, we didn’t see many like Randy Johnson in 2002 either. The Big Unit, at the start of one his best seasons, threw a 130-pitch shutout for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the San Diego Padres on opening day. Pitchers rarely make it past the 100-pitch mark these days, so 130? On opening day? That seems mind-blowing.

Things were different in 2002. Nonetheless, Johnson went on to have quite a season. He won his fifth Cy Young, and fourth straight. He had a 2.32 ERA, 334 strikeouts, 24 wins and logged 260 innings — all of which led the league. Bravo, Big Unit.

Rockies rock Trevor Hoffman to cap wild opener

When the decorative bunting comes out, the Padres and Rockies get wild. In 2007, the division rivals played a memorable tiebreaker game at Coors Field that may have the set stage for the current Wild Card game format. Two years earlier, they played a season opener that was every bit as wild. The teams combined for 22 runs and 30 hits in a game that was decided by a rookie's home run off a Hall-of-Fame closer.

That rookie, Clint Barmes, capped a four-run ninth-inning rally when he took Trevor Hoffman deep. The hit was Barmes' fourth of the game. Aaron Miles, who tied it with a double, had five hits for Colorado. As for Hoffman, he took the loss in the 2005 opener and the 2007 tiebreaker. That makes him one of the many hundreds of pitchers with a Coors Field horror story... or two.

Springer Dinger times two

George Springer enjoyed leading off the 2017 season with a home run so much, he did it all over again in 2018. That made him the first player in MLB history to hit leadoff home runs on consecutive opening days.

The Houston Astros leadoff man took Félix Hernández deep for the first of his 34 home runs in 2017. One year later, Springer went yard against Texas Rangers left-hander Cole Hamels. In between, Springer further added to his legacy by winning the World Series MVP. Not a bad 365 days.

A.J. Burnett gets pranked on the mound

Opening day 2013 fell on April 1, so you know what that means — pranks.

A.J. Burnett, pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time, was the victim. He was on the mound, ready for the game to start, when he picked up a rosin bag and it exploded all over him. Burnett was known as a prankster, so this was viewed as sweet (and dirty) revenge from someone.

Hurray for levity in baseball!

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