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April 1, 2011 at 9:59 AM

Opening Day always a treat, sometimes a preview of things to come

We will be doing Geoff Baker Live! at 11:30 a.m. PT today, previewing the 2011 Mariners. Don’t miss it, live from San Francisco.
We’ve spent weeks reviewing, questioning, debating and pondering the Mariners and their 2011 incarnation. Tonight, all of that amounts to mere talk and we start to see where the action leads.
The Mariners visit the Oakland A’s, sending Felix Hernandez to the mound.
This will be my fifth Opening Day since I began covering the Mariners. I don’t have too many memories from openers with the Toronto Blue Jays. There was one year when former Guns ‘N Roses guitarist Slash showed up (believe it was 2005) to play the Canadian national anthem and I got to interview him on the field pre-game.
I’ll always remember 2004, a year when the Blue Jays thought they were going to win 90+ games and contend. The Detroit Tigers, coming off one of the worst seasons ever, showed up on Opening Day, tagged Roy Halladay for three homers in the first four innings and won the game 7-0. It was like seeing Rocky Balboa staggered by Clubber Lang early in Rocky III. We all just looked at each other in the pressbox and went “Uh-oh.” Then, some 94 losses later, I thought i’d covered the worst season humanly possible.
Wow, was I off.
My first Opening Day covering Seattle in 2007 was more like Hockey Night in Canada, the outdoor version. It was in Cleveland, and, let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve spent five nights in Cleveland in the middle of a blizzard with nothing but dress shoes for your feet.


The closest the M’s came to playing a game that series was the very first night, when they were one out away from completing the top of the fifth. Jose Lopez was at the plate and couldn’t see a thing as the pitcher was working on him with the snow raging.
M’s manager Mike Hargrove, beginning what would be his final half season, came out to argue with the umpire that the game should be halted. His counterpart with the Indians, none other than Eric Wedge, natuarally wanted the game to continue for one more out (which Lopez was certainly capable of making). Hargrove succeeded in arguing long enough for the snow to rage harder and harder until finally, there was no choice but to stop things.
And that was it.
For three more days, we came back to the park. And for three more days, we were sent home early. They didn’t even bother on that last day, bagging it in the late-morning.
Hard to forget a series like that. There are some nice restaurants in Cleveland. Unfortunately, we couldn’t really get to any of them because of the weather. There was a Morton’s in the hotel where the team was staying, so we “braved” the blizzard out there and earned frequent diner cards in doing so.
Two years ago in Seattle, Opening Day featured Erik Bedard in his Mariners debut, tossing five innings of one-run ball in a tight victory for the home side at Safeco Field. It was freezing that day and actually snowed in the bullpen. But it rained on the Mariners the next night when J.J. Putz blew a save and the first of 101 losses was secured. Again, not a good sign.
The other Opening Day I really remember in a positive way was two years ago in Minneapolis, where the Mariners came out and laid it on the Minnesota Twins by a 6-1 score. The Mariners played well that entire series, aside from some consecutive blown saves. And you came away from there thinking they could really do something with the season that had not been expected.
Turns out, they did, winning 85 games.
Last year, the exact opposite. You came away after the first series of the season thinking they could not score runs. Again, completely accurate.
So, yeah, I do think the season opener and first series can be important. It can help set the tone and build momentum for a season. Much easier to begin a season 5-1 than 1-5. A good opening series and you don’t feel like you’re playing catch-up all month.
How will the Mariners begin this season? We’ll find out in a few hours.

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