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The meaningful traditions that make this day that much more special

March 27, 2024

Opening Day is a cherished event on the baseball fan's calendar. Cincinnati goes all out with a parade, the Cardinals welcome in the Clydesdales and countless spectators unfortunately -- cough! cough! -- get sick and have no choice but to heal up in front of the TV or at their club's home stadium.

While some traditions are decades old, others are of the more recent vintage. Before Thursday's first pitches start off another summer of baseball glory, we thought it was time to look at some of these fresh rituals from across MLB's landscape, as told by's beat writers.


A mother, son and 51 years of Opening Days

by AJ Cassavell

This Thursday, Carole Salazar and her son Vic will arrive at Petco Park and take their seats in Section 317, accompanied by Vic’s two children. They’ll watch the Padres open their season against the Giants -- and they’ll do so more or less the same way they’ve done it for half a century.

Thursday’s game marks the 51st straight Padres home opener that Carole and Vic will have attended together. They wouldn’t dream of missing it.

“Opening Day,” Carole said recently, “has always been my New Year’s Day.”

“You just have that thought that this is going to be the year,” Vic said. “And that we're going to be there at the start of it. … It's always been about being with the family. And it's about all of us always being optimistic about the team.”

In 1974, when Vic was in high school, the family had recently moved to San Diego from Orange County. Carole bought tickets for Opening Day at San Diego Stadium through a mail order application she spotted in the newspaper.

It was the same home opener that Padres owner Ray Kroc famously took the mic at the stadium and told the fans in attendance, “I’ve never seen such stupid ballplaying in my life!” The scene left an impression.

“We just thought, 'If this is Opening Day, we don't want to miss this,'” Vic said. “And we have made it happen for, now, going into a sixth decade.”

Carole and her husband Gilbert, who passed away in 1995, vowed they wouldn’t miss another, with Carole noting, “We didn't always have the money. But that's where a credit card came in handy.”

Now it’s Vic who buys the tickets as part of a 20-game package. There have been a few close calls. But Vic, a longtime news anchor credits “supportive news directors, who were always baseball fans.”

Only once did the streak come into serious jeopardy. That was 2019 when Vic’s son Michael, a swimmer at Ohio State, was scheduled to compete in the NCAA championships in Austin, Texas.

Vic made peace with the fact that the streak might be over. After all, the tradition was always about being together with family anyway. He knew where he needed to be.

“Luckily,” Vic says with a laugh, “his first event was scheduled the day after Opening Day. We took the last flight out of San Diego that Opening Day. We took the last flight out to Austin to be there.”

A year later, of course, the baseball world was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the season started in July, fans weren’t allowed in attendance. Not to be deterred, the Carole, Vic and Vic’s daughter Caroline drove to the ballpark on the day of the game and took a photo outside the gates.

“We thought, 'We're not letting our streak die,'” Vic said. “Our streak has been to be at the stadium on Opening Day. We were going to be there.”

Sometime around the 30-year mark, Carole and Vic began a tradition of holding up a piece of paper with the corresponding number for the streak. In 2020, they added an asterisk.


Michael had his own streak broken when he attended college out of state. Christina had hers broken to attend an out-of-town wedding. They had each been to every Opening Day since they were born -- including Christina at four months old. Carole remarried and her husband, Paul Grisham, began a streak of his own.

When Vic and Carole hit 50 Opening Days last season they got a suite and celebrated with 20 additional friends and family members.

This year will be a return to normalcy. Just Carole, Vic, Christina and Michael. As she does every year on Opening Day, Carole is looking forward to taking in a ballgame with her once-a-year hot dog and bag of cracker jacks.

It’s her favorite part. Well, except the obvious:

“Just sitting there with my son,” Carole said. “You know, as we get older, we don't get too much time with our grown-up kids. They've got families of their own. I just treasure every moment. It's become even more meaningful now, as time goes on, to the point of tears if I think about it too long.”

The Cardinals look to the future by honoring the past

by John Denton

Albert Pujols’ 2022 return to the Cardinals, one that ended with a stirring second-half surge that saw him reach 703 career home runs, started not with a smile but with tears streaming down his face on Opening Day in St. Louis.

Back with St. Louis, where he authored one of the greatest 11-year runs to open an MLB career from 2001-11, Pujols eagerly looked forward to the Cardinals' time-honored tradition of having all their living Hall of Fame members -- both from the National and the club’s Hall of Fames -- back at Busch Stadium for a pregame ceremony and adorned in bright red jackets. Most of the Cards legends Pujols was familiar seeing required only one name: Ozzie, Whitey, Lou, Gibby, Red, Torre and La Russa.

While playing for the Angels and then the Dodgers, Pujols was well aware that Cardinals icons and mentors Lou Brock and Bob Gibson had died within a month of one another late in 2020. But the gravity of those friendship losses didn’t hit the future Hall of Famer until that '22 Opening Day, when they weren’t there to flash smiles, crack jokes or offer advice. Pujols always thought one of the things that made the Cardinals different was the way the club fully embraced its history and made sure to have its legendary players around as much as possible, such as every Opening Day at Busch Stadium.

“I knew Lou and Gibby were gone, but it didn’t really hit me until Opening Day when they weren’t there,” said Pujols, who has always credited Brock’s Spring Training drills for making him a better baserunner and Gibson’s fire for sharpening his competitive edge. “I got really emotional out there thinking about them.”

Opening Day in St. Louis has a way of stirring so many emotions within a fanbase and an organization that fully embraces its past, and in some ways shapes its future.


Before 21-year-old superstar Jordan Walker had ever played a game in St. Louis, he'd already had dinner with Ozzie Smith to talk about the expectations that come with being a Cardinal. Shortstop Masyn Winn, another young player who has been mentored by Smith, said he picked No. 0 because it was the closest digit to the retired No. 1 worn previously by “The Wizard.”

Pujols said some of his fondest memories in baseball were talking hitting with legendary Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial, who would playfully refer to Pujols’ relatively small two-toned bat as “a toothpick.” This past offseason, Cards Hall of Famer Mark McGwire spent a day working on hitting drills with current stars Nolan Arenado and Lars Nootbaar and sharing stories from his 70-homer season in 1998.

“In St. Louis, the past is still very much present … if that makes sense,” said Walker, showing the wisdom of someone much more experienced than one year. “Really, you see those legendary guys all the time in St. Louis – in the clubhouse, on the field and on Opening Day. It’s super sick, for sure.”

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How the Orioles chose this year's Mo Gaba "10th man"

by Jake Rill

Carter Lawhorn, a 9-year-old diehard Orioles fan, couldn’t believe the news.

First, there was an unplanned run-in with the club’s new majority owner, David Rubenstein, in the team store at Camden Yards a few weeks earlier. Now, there was this.

Carter was informed he had been named the 2024 Mo Gaba Fan of the Year.

“I fainted,” Carter jokingly said of his reaction.

The Mo Gaba Fan of the Year recognition is an honor that allows one fan to serve as the “10th man” for the Orioles at the home opener each year. The recipient gets to run down the ceremonial orange carpet -- after each player on Baltimore’s roster has done so -- and line up next to manager Brandon Hyde on the infield dirt for the national anthem, which Carter will do prior to Thursday’s Opening Day matchup vs. the Angels.

The distinction was renamed prior to the 2021 season in remembrance of Gaba, an Orioles Hall of Famer and superfan who died in July 2020 after five battles with cancer at the age of 14.

For Carter, the story of how he received this prestigious honor began March 4. That was the day Rubenstein -- whose purchase of the control stake of the Orioles became official on Wednesday -- visited and toured Camden Yards for the first time after agreeing to buy the majority share of the team from the Angelos family on Jan. 31.

Rubenstein’s tour took him to the team store inside the warehouse, where Carter and his mom, Laurie, were shopping with the intent of buying Carter a new jersey of his favorite player, center fielder Cedric Mullins. He came away with another piece of merchandise, too.

Photo via @DM_Rubenstein

When Rubenstein found out the Lawhorns knew who he was, he decided to make their day. He pulled out his wallet, bought Carter a new Orioles City Connect hat -- “I’ve been wanting it for so long,” Carter said -- and then signed it for him. Rubenstein then joined them for a picture, which was later shared on social media:

“We were both on cloud nine,” Laurie said.

March became an even better month for the Lawhorn family when the Orioles reached out with the news that Carter -- a third-grade student at Timonium Elementary School who plays travel baseball for the Carroll Manor Cardinals -- would be this season’s Mo Gaba Fan of the Year.

“I’ve never seen his face more like, ‘Is this actually happening?’” Laurie said.

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The Phillies are keeping the famed Kalas national anthem alive

by Todd Zolecki

The best part might be the stories.

Before and after Kane Kalas sings the national anthem on Thursday for the ninth consecutive Phillies home opener at Citizens Bank Park, Kalas, the son of legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, will stand next to his father’s statue in the left-field corner on Ashburn Alley. There, fans will talk to him about his dad.

They will share stories about how much Harry Kalas, who died in 2009, meant to them. It might be how “Harry the K” interacted with them for a second or two, posing for a photo or signing an autograph or just saying hello in his rich baritone voice. It might be how he used his famous “Outta here!” home run call to record a voicemail greeting or wish somebody congratulations for their wedding or graduation.

Harry Kalas did these things all the time.

“It’s often about how my dad touched them, how this person and their dad used to watch and listen to baseball games together and how my dad brought them closer together,” Kalas said recently. “I love that part of it.”

It makes every trip home worth it. Kalas, 34, is an investor and professional poker player who lives in Puerto Rico. But he sings, too. He recorded a jazz album “High Hopes” in 2023, which he dedicated to his dad. Every spring, the Phillies invite him to sing the national anthem at their home opener. He sings it in a distinct operatic style, which he said comes from good genes and years of classical training.

Kalas first sang the national anthem at a Phillies game when he was 15.

“My father got me the gig,” Kalas said.

Photo provided by Phillies/Miles Kennedy

It went well.

“My dad was so nervous,” he said. “He never really got nervous for anything -- voiceovers or broadcasts or anything like that. But he was so nervous for me. I remember a video I watched afterward and my dad looking on with anticipation and perhaps some anxiety. After I hit that final note, he’s just applauding and tears are running down his cheeks. That just meant so much to me. After the game, he said, ‘Son, I’m so proud of you.’ And that meant so much to me, too.”

Kalas sang the anthem at the Phillies’ first home game after his dad died in April 2009. Eventually, it led to an invite to home openers. The first year he sang it, he was on the field. Then, the Phillies asked him if he would be interested in singing next to his father’s statue.

Absolutely, he said.

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Why the Pirates home opener starts at 4:12

by Alex Stumpf

Perhaps three years is a bit soon to call something an annual tradition. But considering its origins, it seems safe to say that the Pirates’ first pitch at PNC Park is going to be delivered at the same time for years to come.

PNC Park is universally regarded as one of the most beautiful ballparks in the game, but few had the opportunity to watch a game there for a period of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans were not allowed to attend games in 2020, and social distancing guidelines meant that only a percentage of seats were available in ‘21.

That meant 2022 was going to be the first true home opener in three years, and it so happened to fall on April 12, or 4/12. That perfectly matched the city of Pittsburgh’s area code, which is the unofficial number of local Yinzers, spanning to clothing and businesses, too. In ‘18, then-Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto declared April 12 as 412 Day.

“This day represents the work ethic and dreams of those who came before us who forged Pittsburgh with their bare hands, and re-affirms the kindness and selflessness that Pittsburgh uniquely possesses -- that we must all teach to our city’s next generation,” the decree read.

So what better time to deliver that first pitch of that 2022 season than at 4:12 p.m.? And while the Pirates’ home opener can’t always be on April 12, the timing of the pitch can reflect the city.

First pitch at this year’s April 5 home opener against the Orioles will, again, be at 4:12 p.m. -- a tradition that “absolutely” will continue, team president Travis Williams said.

[It’s] a subtle homage to a great city and the proud people that call Pittsburgh home. I love it! ... To my knowledge, we’re the only team that matches its first pitch with the city’s area code.

Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown

"I think for us, coming out of COVID, we were looking for something special to provide our fans on Opening Day,” Williams said. “What I think is interesting about it as well is, it really allows kids, if they're in school, parents can pick them up at school and get them down to the ballgame in time. So we wanted to be thoughtful of how we can get more people down to the ballpark on Opening Day.”

“I think it’s a beautiful way to tie it into the city and get everyone excited about Bucco baseball coming back,” said closer David Bednar, a Pittsburgh-area native. “I’m expecting another great environment this year.”

While that covers the first pitch of the game, the ceremonial first pitches have been very Pittsburgh in that time, too. In 2022, the ceremonial first pitch was delivered by actor and Pittsburgh native Joe Manganiello, who was wearing a custom jersey with “412” on the back. In 2023, A.J. Burnett threw to Russell Martin, two of the heroes from the 2013 team that got the Pirates back to the playoffs.

That first game is partly a celebration of Pittsburgh, so the team may as well lean into it fully.

“[It’s] a subtle homage to a great city and the proud people that call Pittsburgh home,” Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown said. “I love it! ... To my knowledge, we’re the only team that matches its first pitch with the city’s area code. It’s just SO Pittsburgh.”


Padres diehards prep for 'Tony Gwynn Opening Day'

by AJ Cassavell

Opening Day in San Diego is special. The streets in the Gaslamp shut down. The ballpark buzzes. The entire city celebrates.

But for a portion of Padres fans, and for Mr. Padre himself, there's always been a bigger draw to what comes next -- that return to normalcy, that love of baseball without the frills, that embrace of the grind.

That’s Tony Gwynn Opening Day.

For years, Padres fans have referred to the second home game of the season as "Tony Gwynn Opening Day," citing Gwynn's affinity for the occasion. During his 20 seasons, the late Padres legend regularly noted that the second game was when the true fans showed up to the ballpark -- when the baseball season began to feel like, well, a baseball season.

Tony Gwynn Opening Day is not a formal event. It’s not officially recognized by the club. More than anything, it’s a vibe. Gwynn’s son Tony Jr., an eight-year big league outfielder and now a Padres radio broadcaster, can relate.

It's a bit silly, but knowing that Tony held such appreciation for that game and the people who attended it, makes me feel good, like I'm making him proud.

Jodi Paranal

"Opening Day happens, everybody's really excited, everybody fills the stadium up, comes through the turnstyles -- it's an event," said Tony Jr. "But that following day -- and I don't know that he felt like this early in his career, but certainly by the time I was of age to have this type of conversation with him -- I think by that time, he started to feel like that was where the true Padres fanbase was.

"That was the first thing. The second thing is: For a guy who liked a routine and consistency, Opening Day is probably the worst day for that. There's so much stuff going on. It's just not normal. ... That second day is when everything kind of returns to normal."

This was no knock on Opening Day, Gwynn Jr. says. Just a preference his father held -- and a preference embraced by many Padres fans.

Five years ago, Jodi Paranal wrote the blog "Attending the Tony Gwynn Opener has become my favorite tradition" for the site Gaslamp Ball.

"As exciting as the home opener always is, it can be a bit overwhelming," Paranal wrote in a message. "I find that the second game really does give me the same sense of excitement but with a slightly smaller crowd, which allows me to enjoy the game more."

"It's a bit silly," Paranal added. "But knowing that Tony held such appreciation for that game and the people who attended it, makes me feel good, like I'm making him proud."

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