April 06, 2018
By: Doug Heater
Former IronPigs manager Dave Brundage once told me, when asked if Opening Day ever gets old, he said “It never gets old, and when I don’t get butterflies on opening day, it’s time to get out of the business”.
The IronPigs will open their 11th season here in Allentown on Thursday April 12th. So I figured why not take a look back on my past 8 years covering the team, and some of the more memorable opening day’s that I have had.
I was lucky enough to go to the very first Opening Day in IronPigs history, when they began their inaugural season in 2008, traveling north to take on the then, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. The game time temperature is officially listed as 48 degrees. I beg to differ. We were covering the game for Lehigh Valley Sports Scene, and with the overabundance of media there for the event, the Scranton staff didn’t know where to put us to video the game. We ended up settling with a spot near their picnic patio in right field, very close to the outfield wall and the teams bullpen. What stood out about this game was not only the frigid temperatures, and the fans endless heckling of the projected power hitter for the Pigs, right fielder Valentino Pascucci, but the Yankees 40 million dollar arm of Kei Igawa throwing 6 perfect innings, striking out 7. He faced J.A. Happ, who I imagine would love to forget he was even on that inaugural team. This 4-0 loss was the first of 11 straight to start the Pigs season.
My first official home opener at Coca-Cola Park covering the team as a field reporter and pregame show co-host, was in 2010, former manager Dave Huppert’s final season. The Pigs lost the game on April 14th to Rochester 5-2, which was nothing new under Huppert. What stood out to me that day was that it was 61 degrees at game time, 9,811 people showed up, and the pregame festivities were capped off by the Army Black Knights skydiving team, parachuting in to Coca-Cola Park. Being on the field while this was going on was an experience I will not soon forget.
Opening Day 2011 was a historical one for the IronPigs. It not only marked the first game under manager Ryne Sandberg, but it marked the first time in it’s history that the IronPigs would have a record above .500 at 1-0. If you think this wasn’t important to the Phillies management, General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. showed up for the game, and popped a bottle of champagne with Ryno in his office after it was over, to celebrate the victory.
In 2012, we saw Tyler Cloyd get the late call up from Reading to pitch the season opener against the Yankees, after scheduled starter Dave Bush was suspended a few games for what was called “an unfortunate incident” in spring training with the Pirates minor league team, by manager Ryne Sandberg. Cloyd went out in his Triple-A debut and threw six perfect innings, before being taken out at 73 pitches. The Pigs went on to win that game 3-0, allowing only one hit.
In 2016, the Pigs got to play a double header before their official home opener, against Syracuse, after the Chiefs postponed the season opener because of snow. Played on April 8th, in front of zero fans, the Pigs lost both games to the Chiefs in an environment that is close to impossible to explain. The game time temperature was 42 degrees, with a 10 mph wind. No fans, no players announced walking up to the plate, and no in between inning skits. Nothing. A very odd environment. The Pigs official home opener was seven days later, one that they lost by a whooping 13-1 score against Pawtucket.
Last season’s home and season opener was rained out, forcing the team to play what everyone loves to see, a doubleheader on the first Sunday of the season. The Pigs lost the official home opener a day later on the 7th to Pawtucket again, 14-7.
With the team’s 2018 home opener less than a week away, as of this writing, under first year manager Gary Jones, here is too warmer weather, wins and maybe even a walk off home run. By the way, for me, the butterflies haven’t left just yet.