I can remember the opening day to the 2010 season like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my rental car in the parking lot of a dry cleaner in Winter Haven, Florida listening to the game over the radio through the MLB app on my iPhone. There are those moments in your life where you just automatically remember where you were when some event occurred. For people of my parent’s generation, they remember where they were when JFK or MLK, Jr. was assassinated, for instance. While not as important in the grand scheme of things, the same can be said for major sporting events, especially those that concern your favorite team. We remember where we were when Sid slid. We remember where we were when the final out of the 1995 World Series was recorded. Those old enough can remember Hank Aaron hitting number 715. We can remember Jason Heyward’s first home run. ⚾
I was in the middle of a slow work day, and I knew that the Braves game was being broadcast on ESPN. Despite my near obsessive hatred of the network, I wanted to get off work a little early to catch the game. I was able to leave early, but not early enough to see the first pitch. At my desk, I listened as Derek Lowe gave up a three run homer to Marlon Byrd in the top of the first. As I headed out to my car, Lowe recorded the final out of the half inning. The Cubs had their ace, Carlos Zambrano, on the mound. I thought it was a terrible omen for the season.
In their first offensive turn at bat of the 2010 season, the Braves got going quick. Melky Cabrera worked a walk that was followed by a two strike single from Martin Prado. On the second pitch he saw, Chipper Jones blooped a single to center scoring Cabrera. As I pulled into the parking lot of the dry cleaners, McCann would also single to center loading the bases. There’s no way I was getting out of the car just yet.
Troy Glaus struck out swinging on three straight pitches, but Yunel Escobar, as he did throughout the 2009 season, came through with a clutch hit, yet another single to center, scoring Prado and Jones. (I was convinced that what we had just seen from Troy Glaus and Yunel Escobar was what we would see all season long. In one case, I was right.) The stage was set. Brian McCann stood on second and Escobar was on first as Jason Heyward headed to the plate for his first major league at-bat.
Through the radio broadcast, you could hear the fans that packed the Ted that day. It sounded like a post season game. Sure, many people need no reason other than “first game of the season” to show up at the ballpark. It was, however, obvious from the moment that Jason Heyward stepped to the plate just who the star attraction was that April day.
Right from the start, he displayed the patience that we had heard so much about. It would have been easy for a kid in his first at bat to be overly aggressive, looking to prove himself quickly to the home crowd. With the ease of a veteran though, Heyward took two quick balls from Zambrano. At some point, the crowd had started chanting his name. Zambrano readied the next pitch. I’ll never forget Jim Powell’s call.
Here it comes. Swing and a drive! High and deep to right field! It is way gone! Jason Heyward with a bomb into the Braves bullpen! It’s 6 to 3 Atlanta! And this stadium is upside-down!
I still get goosebumps thinking about it. My reaction was extreme. I began screaming and jumping up and down while sitting in the driver’s seat of my rented Chevy Malibu. A businessman exiting the dry cleaner saw me and must have thought I’d lost my mind. It was an electric moment, and even though I had missed seeing it, the image I had in my mind was even better than the image I saw on replay of the actual home run.
I was convinced it was the start of a Braves run that would last for years and that Jason Heyward was on his way to the Hall of Fame. Of course, a few years later, the Braves would tear everything down and send Heyward on his way. Heyward has remained one of my favorite players, even if he failed to live up to his hype. Nothing can rob me of that opening day memory though.