A Glimpse into the History of the Padres Opening Day Starter

Credit: USA Today Sports

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Credit: USA Today Sports

The first bred, home grown superstar, Randy Jones, took part in his first Major League opening day in 1974. He didn’t get the start, however. Bill Greif did. Of that day, Jones recalls some humorous and memorable occurrences. The website “Opening Day Memories” has a whole piece on Randy Jones, and other Padre stars.

From that site comes the following quoted memories. “1974 was my first opening day with San Diego. Ray Kroc owned the Padres.  It was classic – we weren’t playing that well against the Houston Astros, and Ray got on the public address system and apologized to the fans for our poor performance, which ticked off quite a few of our veteran players. Me being a rookie I didn’t say too much. He was half way through his apology when a streaker – streakers were big back then – ran across the field and slid into second, and Ray is screaming over the PA system to get that guy off the field! It was pretty hilarious! We didn’t play baseball very well but it was pretty funny. That was my first opening day experience, and I think it was pretty unique.” This all happened after a very turbulent off-season, when the Padres almost moved to Washington. Kroc took the reins of the organization and, in his way, pushed it forward.

1975, his second year in the majors, was Randy Jones’ first opening day start out of an eventual four.

He got the nod also in 76, 77, and 80. In the following quote from the same source he extrapolates on the feelings of opening day from the multiple years, some of the feelings that pitchers go through, and some more great memories. “I had a great opening day in 1975. I was the starting pitcher. I was very nervous. The year before I was 8-22. Against the San Francisco Giants, on Opening Day, we got rained out, of all things. That’s ok – you relax and gear up for the next day. But we got rained out the next day also. And it never rains in San Diego! Now I was getting a little tense. On the third day we got the game in. I faced Jim Barr of the Giants. I went nine innings, gave up four hits and the score was 0-0. The year before I hadn’t gotten much run support either, and I was afraid it was starting off to be just like 1974. I ended up losing in 10 innings, but I went on to have a great year.”

Finally, in 1976, Jones experienced his first opening day win. “1976 was the ultimate for me. I was runner-up to Tom Seaver for the Cy Young the previous year. I started in front of a full house against the Atlanta Braves. I thought the crowd was amazing – we had a sellout, around 50,000 people. Roger Craig, our pitching coach, and I went out to the bullpen to warm up before the game, and he walked out with me. People started to stand up as we left the dugout and they gave me a standing ovation – that’s 50,000 people on their feet giving me a standing ovation just walking out to the bullpen to warm up! First of all, on Opening Day you’re nervous as heck, no matter how many years you’ve been playing. It gets your adrenaline going and you’re nervous. The standing ovation really made me more nervous – people appreciating the year I had in ’75. Roger Craig looked at me as we’re walking to the bullpen, and it’s his first game back in a Padre uniform and he says, “Man, can you believe how much these people just love me?!” I cracked up. That was one of 20 standing ovations I received that year in San Diego – every start at Jack Murphy stadium. It was a great experience, and a great start to an incredible season for me, going on to win the Cy Young award.” Wow, what a great look into the beginning of the remarkable career that Randy Jones had with the Padres, and window into the feelings surrounding the nostalgia and fanfare of opening day!

(Photo by: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Our next stop on the journey down Padre opening day lore is into and through the 1980’s. Except for a couple of others peppered in, these opening day starts were commonly given to “The Show”, Eric Show. Show’s first nod was bestowed on him in that magical 1984 season. He would also get the start three more times throughout the decade. In 1984, he pitched a great opening day start. He went 7 innings, allowing three hits, one run, while striking out four batters, in what ended up being a 5-1 win over the Pirates, and the first step to winning the 1984 National League Pennant. He went on to win 14 more games that season for a total of 15, matching his ’83 totals and earning the start in game 1 of the NLCS. Despite his great two seasons, Show’s postseason stats were sub-standard and his relationship with Manager Dick Williams, for various personal reasons, was stressed.

In 1986 and 1987, after Dick Williams had left, Show once again was given the ball for both opening days as the Padre starter. He pitched well in both those games, going 7 innings each, but the Padres came up short, failing to provide him with run support. He got his final and fourth start in ’89, which ended up as one more loss for Show on opening day. Over the four games, despite pitching pretty well, Show kept a 1-3 record.

Padre fans and the organization were happy to turn the page on the 1980’s, despite having received their first World Series birth. The 1990’s brought new hope, and with that hope was the number one overall draft pick and 1989 N.L. Rookie Pitcher of the Year, Andy Benes. The big right-hander was one of those overpowering fastball pitchers that everyone loved to watch, but he would either strike batters out or give up hits. Benes got his first opening day start in 1993, the same year in which he was an all-star. He also received two more consecutive nods in 1994 and 1995. Unfortunately for Benes, his record on opening day would be 0-3 for the Friars.


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