Opening Day delivers thrills -- and it's only just the beginning

April 8th, 2022

What were the best moments of Opening Day? A group of reporters gathered to discuss:

Alyson Footer, editor/moderator: As expected, there were plenty of great moments on Opening Day, and at least one Major League debut lived up to the hype. You really couldn’t have scripted it better for Bobby Witt Jr: His first Major League hit was a double that gave the Royals a one-run lead in the eighth, and they ended up winning the game. Exactly how he wrote it up, right?

Paul Casella, reporter/producer: There was just a feeling he was going to do something when he came up in that spot. You could feel the buzz in the crowd, runner in scoring position with two outs, late in the game. Big player stepping up in a big moment.

Manny Randhawa, reporter/producer: One of the great elements of baseball is that you can't put the ball in LeBron's hands, or Steph's hands, or have Tom Brady under center, when the big spot comes up. And still we got Bobby Witt Jr. in the big spot, and he delivered. Tremendous stuff.

Footer: Knowing nothing about the kid, I can tell he oozes confidence, which is half the battle on Opening Day.

I think my favorite part of Witt's trip around the bases was when he arrived back to the dugout. He smiled all the way through while high-fiving his teammates. I liked that he was acknowledging what just happened -- big moment, huge day, he wasn't trying to keep his head down and act like it was not a big deal.

It would have been just as easy for him to start the season 0-for-12, happens to the best of hitters. Glad we got something a little more -- a reward for putting these young guys on the Opening Day rosters.

Casella: And we still get to watch Spencer Torkelson and Julio Rodríguez debut today!

Randhawa: Had to be all the more incredible of a feeling for Witt after all the hype. Like you said, some of the greatest players of all time struggled right out of the gate. Not to say Witt won't, but getting that first hit out of the way -- and it being so big -- is significant.

I think we need to talk about how the Royals have a Whit and a Witt on the infield, by the way.

Footer: I'm guessing their nicknames are the same.

Casella: A battle for which one gets to go by "Witty," I imagine ...

Footer: When I was watching the game, and they panned to the crowd, I thought, you know, Royals fans have reason to be optimistic this year. Maybe it's all the Opening Day vibes, and optimism is overflowing in every city except maybe three. But I'm feeling like this could be a very interesting season for the AL Central.

Casella: That division has to be as wide open as any. Sure, the White Sox are the obvious frontrunner, but with three Wild Cards and the AL East set to beat each other up all year long -- crazier things have happened.

Randhawa: Twins are fun, Royals are fun, White Sox are really fun.

Footer: Let’s segue from the young pups to the old guard. Joey Votto's mic'd-up inning in the fourth during the Reds-Braves game on ESPN2 was pure gold. (Literally. At one point Votto was talking about getting a gold tooth.) We need more of this, right? More mic'd up innings, and more Votto.

Casella: Pulling back the curtain on some of these guys we've all been watching for more than a decade is fantastic. How can fans not love getting that behind-the-scenes glimpse?

Footer: One thing that may have gone unnoticed but that I liked was that it gave a closeup view as to just how physical playing a position is, even when it seems like nothing's happening. Fielders are moving on every single pitch. We've never seen a vantage point like we did tonight in that respect.

Randhawa: That was the most interesting part for me -- how Votto was able to multitask was remarkable. He wasn't bad with the play-by-play either!

Footer: At one point Votto said (paraphrasing here): "Playing a position is hard. Hitting is hard. Doing it with microphone in my ear is foreign territory for me." You could tell he was a little skittish at first, which was one of the things that made it so cool.

Randhawa: It was very organic; didn't feel forced at all. But that's Votto.

Casella: I was glad we got a decently long inning -- and Ozzie Albies on first base for most of it. Definitely gave Votto time to warm up to the whole thing and make it feel natural.

Footer: Votto: "Ozzie, what do you think about me getting a diamond tooth?" Ozzie: "Go for it." Can’t help but laugh. But the whole point is to bring the game closer to the fans, and this exercise definitely met expectations.

Casella: It's definitely going to lead to some unforgettable moments, that's for sure. Just imagine Votto making a diving stop down the line or digging one out of the dirt on a bang-bang play at first. Should make for some fun highlights.

Footer: We can move on to the other mic'd up moment of the night -- our first umpire announcement! It seemed so natural – there was a review of Tommy Edman’s eighth-inning home run during the Cards-Pirates game, and the umpire made an announcement to the crowd that the homer was upheld. I know it was a small thing, but it was the first one, so it’s worth noting. It’s also long overdue, in my opinion.

Randhawa: Long overdue. The worst review for me was when Cody Bellinger homered but was called out for passing the lead runner on the basepaths last year in Colorado -- might've even been Opening Day. So this is a welcome development.

Casella: It's bad enough when you're watching on TV and broadcasters start speculating about what they might be reviewing or why they did/didn't overturn something -- but when you're a fan at the ballpark and you're not sure what's going on? Just brutal. Simple fix, but a great one.

And the Bellinger one is a great example -- how many fans at the ballpark even realized that happened while they were watching that play unfold?

Footer: Staying with the Cardinals for another minute, Tyler O'Neill had a huge day -- three-run homer, drove in five runs on the day. But I have to admit I was a little sad it was O’Neill and not Pujols. (Hat tip to Tyler, of course.)

Randhawa: Yeah, although I'm hoping we get some great Pujols moments throughout the season. He hit 17 homers in 296 plate appearances last year, so I think he really has a shot at 700 before he hangs 'em up.

Casella: Not just Pujols, but Molina behind the plate and Waino on the mound -- had to be a decent amount of nostalgia for those fans, I would think.

And let's give O'Neill his due. This guy hit 13 home runs and had a 1.108 OPS over 32 games in September/October last season -- and he seems to be picking up right where he left off.

Randhawa: How about Waino? How does he keep doing this at age 39?

Footer: Maybe the old guard does have one more run in them?

Randhawa: Arenado needs to be better, particularly at home -- .722 OPS at Busch last year. Today was a good start.

Casella: The NL Central is very winnable. It's hard to imagine the Pirates and Reds factoring in, and the Cubs don't seem to be in the picture just yet. The Brewers have an impressive stable of starting pitchers, but the Cards could push them.

Randhawa: If the Brewers hit, they're gonna be tough to beat. IF they hit. That pitching staff is a monster from top to bottom, but if Yelich can't find it …

Footer: Opening Day is awesome for a lot of reasons, a big one being that games start early in the day and run deep into the night. It was cool that the first game on the docket produced a nice moment, with the Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki getting his first Major League hit.

Casella: Off the reigning NL Cy Young winner no less!

Maybe just as impressive as the hit, Suzuki fell behind 1-2 in his first plate appearance and then laid off three straight pitches to draw a walk off Corbin Burnes -- a guy who does not walk many batters. Suzuki seemed plenty comfortable in the box for his MLB debut.

Randhawa: Just to put some context around the Suzuki walk, Burnes didn't walk his first batter until his sixth start last year.

Casella: And then he issues the first walk by anyone in 2022. And the first home run of the season comes from a guy (Nico Hoerner) who hadn't hit one since 2019. All of that in game No. 1 of 2,430. Not bad.

Randhawa: Because baseball! Another reason it's the best sport.

Witt plays hero, Shohei Ohtani K’s 9, makes history by throwing the first pitch of the season for his team and then sees the first pitch of the season in the batter's box. So good.

Casella: The thing with Ohtani is -- as amazing he was last season -- he actually struggled on the mound out of the gate. He had 11 walks in his first two starts and 19 walks through 18 2/3 innings. Some were questioning whether he could be a viable starter.

Then, he settled in and found his command. This year, he kicks things off with nine K's (including three of Jose Altuve) and only one walk? If we get a full season of this Ohtani -- maybe he'll have a Cy Young to pair with his MVP trophy.