Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day and The Hatch

Later tonight, the Minnesota Twins will open the 2010 season in Anaheim, California against the Los Angeles Angels.  This season marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of my earliest Opening Day memory, also taking place in Anaheim.

A few years back, I wrote a story for my old blog declaring 1984 as the year I fell in love with baseball.   By the following spring, I had already opened my first packs of 1985 Topps baseball cards, had listened to as many spring training games as I could on the radio, and could hardly contain my excitement for the beginning of the new season.

I have always loved the Twins' West Coast road trips.  Perhaps because I've always been a night owl, I'm naturally excited about being able to watch baseball until midnight.  Of course, at seven years old, those late starts can be difficult to negotiate, especially on school nights.  I must have figured out a way to persuade my parents to let me stay up late on Tuesday, April 9, 1985.  Because I vividly remember the ballgame.

Our newly crowned ace Frank Viola had a breakthrough 18-win season in '84, and was set to take the mound opposite the California Angels' workhorse Mike Witt.  Witt's previous start was on the final day of the 1984 season, when he tossed the 11th perfect game in MLB history.

The game lived up to its hype, as Viola and Witt engaged in a pitcher's duel that entered the 8th inning in a 1-1 tie.  Kirby Puckett led off the top of the 8th with a single, but was quickly erased when Mickey Hatcher followed by hitting in to a ground ball double-play.  Figuring the inning was likely over, I ran to the bathroom.  I missed Kent Hrbek and Roy Smalley reaching base, and I missed Tom Brunansky's tie-breaking three-run homerun.

I was certainly excited about taking the lead, but was also pretty pissed at myself (or at least as upset as a seven year old can be with himself) for my poor timing.  The Angels came back with another run in the bottom of the eighth, and with then-Twins closer/human ulcer Ron Davis set to face Reggie Jackson and friends in the bottom of the ninth, a two-run lead was hardly safe.

Mickey Hatcher rectified that.  Hardly a power source (he only hit 38 career homeruns over 12 Major League seasons), the Hatch was an unlikely candidate to blast a two-run bomb in the top of the ninth, but that's exactly what he did.  In doing so, he made amends for his previous at-bat and made me feel much better about missing Brunansky's homer.  The Twins held on to win 6-2.

The Hatch further cemented his status as one of my favorite Twins of the era.  Prior to Bert Blyleven's homecoming later in that 1985 season, Hatcher was the Twins' resident merry prankster.  He was a scrappy player, but really had no business as an everyday corner outfielder.  In 1985, he was coming off consecutive .300 batting average seasons, but it was an empty .300.  He had no power and wouldn't take a walk to save his life.  As a player, he became famous for three things:
  1. "Catching" Dave Kingman's lost ball.  In the Metrodome's inaugural 1982 season, A's slugger Dave Kingman famously hit a pop up that passed through a hole in the roof and never came down.  He was awarded a ground rule double.  The next day, before Kingman came up to bat for the first time, Hatcher had a Dome employee drop a ball from a hole in the roof.
  2. His 1986 Fleer baseball card, where he wore a giant clown-glove (seen at the top of this post).
  3. His homerun for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, where instead of trotting he sprinted around the bases.
Since 2000, Hatcher has been the hitting coach for the Anaheim.  He'll be there tonight, again in Angels Stadium, again for a late-night season opener between the Twins and Angels.

It's been a good twenty-five years.


  1. Dan, since you were a young boy your life has been baseball and the Minnesota Twins and your childhood bedroom certainly is a known proof of it. Many of your growing up summer days in the back yard were spent narrating your own baseball games or playing baseball with the neighborhood kids. You could never get enough of the general admission afternoon games at the dome and waiting for the players to come out after the game to get autographs and talk to them. I believe baseball has always been your number 1 sport!

  2. I remember Dan narrating backyard games.
    I also remember Dan being the first to wear batting gloves in his fielding glove; he was the first to wear fielder's shades and the first to have a black outfield mitt.

    I was then, and am still, in awe of Dan's endless knowledge and love of baseball.

  3. Dan,
    Hatcher was also known for getting 9 consecutive hits in two consecutive games. Also, they used to play "Mickey" by Toni Basil at the Dome whenever Hatcher came to bat: "Hey, Mickey your so fine, you blow my mind. Hey, Mickey!"
    -- Steve Peteremeier