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Opening Day Memories – 1986

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Opening Day Memories – 1986

Like many of us, yesterday March 26, 2020 was supposed to be a great day. I had planned to leave my office early, grab lunch and settle down in front of my TV and watch game #1 of what I envisioned to be a memorable Yankee season.

As we all know by now, the Yankee’s mission was derailed on March 12 because of the Coronavirus, and everything else seemed to change in a blink of an eye.

So instead of playing hooky yesterday and enjoying Opening Day 2020, I was left reminiscing about baseball and other things, as a diversion from real life, during the few breaks I had at the office.

Anyway, I was asked to write about a memorable Opening Day that I attended. So I thought to myself what makes a memorable Opening Day? Is a great come from behind win? Is it complete game shut out? Is it memorable for some other on the field moment? What is it that would make it memorable?

Some of the great opening days personally for me were 1997 and 1999, for obvious reasons. Being there to witness the raising of the World Series Banner is a very cool experience. I hope some of you get to experience it for yourself someday.

I was also at the Garden in 1995 when the Rangers raised the Banner! A special night as well.

The easy ones are Opening Days after a World Series victory, very exciting. Very memorable, for sure.

However, I have great memories from one that really wasn’t anything noteworthy or significant on its own or on the field. No walk off hit, no brilliant pitching performance, just a ball game at great point in life.


The 1985 season was a very interesting season, to say the least. Manager, Yogi Berra got off to a 6-10 start, and then was fired by George Steinbrenner. Billy Martin replaced him, and finished the season going 91-54. Don Mattingly won the MVP hitting .324 with 35 home runs, 145 RBI and 48 doubles, while winning his first of 9 Gold Gloves. Ron Guidry went 22-6.

The 1985 Yankees thrilled us all summer long, and won 97 games overall. But the Blue Jays won 99 games.

Across town, the 1985 Mets were a great show as well, winning 98 games, but also just fell short; the Cardinals won 101 games.

No Wild Card, so both teams went home for the winter.

When 1986 rolled around, Billy was gone, and Lou Piniella was the new manager.

Expectations throughout the area were sky high that 1986 could be a classic season for both clubs.

I have been to a number of Opening Days, but 1986 always stood out because of the expectations and atmosphere that day.

The Yanks had a great team, they had acquired Mike Easler from the Red Sox in a trade for Don Baylor that winter, they had the reigning American League MVP in Mattingly, the great Dave Winfield was in his prime, Rickey Henderson was one of the most exciting players in all of Baseball, and one of my favorites, Willie Randolph was still playing second base.

It was time to play ball!

I went with 2 close friends and my cousin Tommy that day, getting our tickets the day they went on sale.

April 8, 1986 started with us loading up on food and sandwiches from a deli on Staten Island (back then you could bring food into the Stadium) and then we headed off to the Bronx only to get stuck in a brutal traffic jam exiting the George Washington Bridge and getting onto the Major Deegan Expressway. Not fun!

But things got better from there.

The game was sold out as over 55,000 were in attendance that day.

It was an overcast sky, but warmed up to about 50 degrees when the first pitch was thrown at 1:05 PM. The game would be played in 2 hours and 26 minutes.

The Yankees were playing the George Brett led defending World Champion Royals, and had Ron Guidry making the start.

Guidry would only go 5 innings, as he suffered a calf sprain. He would not miss his next start.

Yankee catcher Butch Wynegar, crushed a 3 run home run in the 2nd inning to give the Yanks all they would need in a 4-2 win.

It wasn’t the most compelling game I have ever been to, but it was just a great day. It did have a few other highlights for a Baseball Fan. I remember Royals center fielder Willie Wilson making a great diving catch (and if some of you don’t remember him, he was a great ball player). Of course just having the chance to see George Brett hit in person, was always something I enjoyed. He was amazing.

Dave Righetti got the save that day, and Lou Piniella got into his first argument as a manager with the umpires.

Watching Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly, and Dave Winfield in the prime of their careers was incredible and worth the cost of admission by itself.

Watching Willie Randolph, a pro’s pro, was always big for me.

I probably went to at least 10 games that summer, and always sat in the nose bleeds. But not on that day, I remember we had pretty good seats off of third base.

The 1986 Yankees had an excellent line up. The opening day lineup was as follows.

Rickey Henderson-CF

Willie Randolph- 2B

Don Mattingly- 1B

Dave Winfield- RF

Gary Roenicke – DH (yes he was a Yankee)

Henry Cotto – LF

Dale Berra – 3B (should have been Mike Pagliarulo, but “Pags” did pinch hit for him and play in the field).

Butch Wynegar – C

Bobby Meacham- SS

On the bench that day were Mike Easler, Dan Pasqua, Ron Hassey, Ken Griffey, Ron Kittle and Joel Skinner.

Later that season the Yankees would trade for Claudell Washington, who became one of the best 4th outfielders in the league, and would play with the Yankees through 1988.

The starting rotation that year was:

Ron Guidry

Doug Drabek

Joe Niekro

Dennis Rasmussen

Bob Tewksbury

The 1986 Yankees were an exciting team that won several personal awards that season.

Rickey Henderson – American League Leader in Stolen Bases (87)

Rickey Henderson – American League Leader in Runs Scored (130)

Don Mattingly – American League Leader in Hits (238)

Don Mattingly – Silver Slugger Award

Don Mattingly – Yankees Single Season Record, Hits in a Season (238)

Don Mattingly – Yankees Single Season Record, Doubles in a Season (53)

Dave Righetti, Major League Record (since broken), Most Saves in One Season by a Relief Pitcher (46)

Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly and Dave Righetti would all make the All Star Team that season.

The Yankees would go on to a 90-72 record and finish second to the Red Sox who won 95 games.

The Mets, well, we all know what they did in 1986 against those same Red Sox.

Opening day 1986 was filled with optimism, hope and exhilaration, and was just a great day at the old ballpark.

Going to a game with friends and family is always a great day, and 1986 didn’t disappoint. In the grand scheme of things, it was just an inconsequential game, but a memory making day for me.

Being with the right people, and having a great time was all that mattered. We were filled with hope and optimism that day.

Today, I wish we could all have the same feeling, not just about the upcoming season, but about our lives and the health of our loved ones.

So, it’s important for all of us to keep the memories alive and stay positive. We will come out of this better then we went into it.

Oh yeah, I remember rushing home because I had to be at work by 5:30. I made it just in time!!


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