Whether it leads off 162 games in the big leagues or 144 games in the minors, pitcher Chase De Jong is sure about one thing.
Opening day is special for everybody.
Yes, even baseball players.
Even though the Tacoma Rainiers kicked off 2017 last week on the road in Sacramento, the team was feeling giddy before its home opener Tuesday in Cheney Stadium.
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It is the day to hit in your own ballpark for the first time. It is the day to sign autographs for the home fans for the first time. And it is even the day to hug Rick, the clubhouse security man, returning after a long offseason.
“I still get goosebumps on opening day,” Rainiers manager Pat Listach said. “It is the beginning of the season. You’ve been looking forward to this all offseason. It is a big day. It is a big deal.”
It’s not unusual for the Rainiers to take batting practice on this special day in April wearing heavy-duty sweatshirts and knitted hats.
But most importantly, even under dark skies, the rain held off for the 7:30 p.m. first pitch between the Rainiers and defending Pacific Coast League champion El Paso — also the team that ended Tacoma’s season a year ago in the playoffs.
“When we opened in Clinton (the Single-A affiliate in Iowa) from 2010-12, it was 40 degrees,” Rainiers catcher Steven Baron said. “So this is warm, by comparison. In fact, (Double-A) Jackson was a lot like this last year for opening day.”
De Jong, who opened last season in Tulsa, the Double-A team for the Los Angeles Dodgers, says he remembers most of his childhood opening-day memories watching the hometown Los Angeles teams.
But his most memorable experience came in 2012, when he was a senior in high school.
Because his family had friends in the Texas Rangers ownership group, De Jong was in Arlington for the Rangers’ opening day — the year after they lost to St. Louis in the World Series.
Optimism was renewed — De Jong felt it throughout the ballpark. He even met legendary Texas major leaguer Nolan Ryan and talked about the upcoming season’s outlook.
“It was just incredible,” De Jong said.
De Jong was back in Texas again for his next in-person opening day, this time as a member of the Seattle Mariners last week in Houston.
He knew he would be with the club for just a few days. But he was still introduced with the rest of the players.
“It had even more glimmer to it,” De Jong said. “You saw guys that had been in the big leagues for a long time, and they were walking around the clubhouse saying, ‘Happy opening day!’
“It was like a holiday.”
A holiday spent with your teammates, coaches and 5,000 of your newest, closest friends.
“There is a little bit of adrenaline that you have with opening day that you get to run with it, and you get to play with it,” Baron said. “Typically on those days, I feel like I have life in me. In June or July, it is hard to get that kind of energy back.”