O'Neill's record-setting homer opens season 'with a bang'

March 29th, 2024

SEATTLE -- If you want a home run on Opening Day, is your guy.

And on Thursday night at T-Mobile Park, the outfielder made history in his debut for the Red Sox, helping his new club to a 6-4 victory in the process.

The right-handed hitter mashed a solo homer to right-center for a big insurance run in the top of the eighth, becoming the first AL/NL player to go deep in five straight Opening Days.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, O’Neill entered the day tied with Todd Hundley (1994-97) and a pair of Hall of Famers in Gary Carter (1977-80) and Yogi Berra (1955-58).

By the time the game was over, O’Neill had the milestone baseball on the shelf of his locker.

“I knew what was going on, for sure,” O’Neill said. “I just wanted to be patient up there. Get something over the plate that I could handle.”

It seems that nobody handles Opening Day quite like O’Neill. How is he always able to come out of the gate firing?

“I don’t know, it has to be something to do with the pregame ceremony or something,” quipped O’Neill. “It’s fun. You always want to kick the season off with a bang. Fortunately, I have been able to do it [five] times in a row now. Just having a lot of fun out there.”

Roughly three hours before the game started, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had the line of the day when asked why he decided to start O’Neill against a righty ace in Luis Castillo.

“I’ve got a five-game losing streak on Opening Day and he has a four-game home run streak on Opening Day, so analytics,” joked Cora, who won the season opener for the first time in six tries as a manager.

The homer came off a different righty in Cody Bolton, and O’Neill smashed his first-pitch sweeper at an exit velocity of 104.3 mph and a projected distance of 394 feet, per Statcast.

In this day and age, history-making feats don’t take long to spread through the dugout.

“A bunch of guys in the dugout, they were giving me big-time props when I came in,” O’Neill said. “I was pretty fired up myself going around first base. It was such a whirlwind, honestly.”

Making it even sweeter for O’Neill, a native of Burnaby, British Columbia, is that Seattle is the closest Major League city to where he grew up, giving him a chance to have 20 of his family members and friends come to the game.

“I have my parents in town,” O’Neill said. “I have my in-laws in town. I have some extended family. Some friends. Some high school friends. Friends I played baseball with coming up.”

Trips to T-Mobile Park are always nostalgic for O’Neill, who was selected 85th overall by the Mariners in the third round of the 2013 MLB Draft.

“I would come out here once or twice a year,” O’Neill said. “When I started playing baseball at 10 or 11 years old, my parents would make a trip, bring me and my sister down here to watch a ballgame. It was only three hours from our house, so it feels like a hometown kid a little bit in this area. I love playing in Seattle. I like the city a lot. I like the weather.”

For O’Neill, making this type of home run history in Seattle felt like a backyard dream from his youth.

“Baseball is a funny game,” O’Neill said. “It brings everything home like that. It’s really special to have the family in town, see me be out there and compete and play hard. I’m having a blast.”

The addition of O’Neill will be key for the Red Sox if he can stay healthy for the first time since 2021, when he finished eighth in the race for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. O’Neill plays with the type of passion that should make him a perfect fit in Boston.

“It’s been amazing,” said O’Neill. “I love wearing this uniform. I’m having a blast. The boys are awesome. The communication here has been great. Everybody is rooting for each other here, and it’s easy to pull for everyone.”

Rafael Devers, Boston’s star slugger, helped set the tone by launching a two-run homer to left-center to open the scoring in the top of the third.

O’Neill did what he could to make sure that early rocket from Devers stood up and made a winner out of Brayan Bello in his first Opening Day start.

“Yeah, what a day,” said O’Neill.

And surely one he will never forget.