There’s nothing quite like Major League Baseball‘s Opening Day. It’s a sports tradition draped in pomp and circumstance, from the American flag banners, fireworks displays, and pre-game festivities and ceremonies.
For the Atlanta Braves, Opening Day will feature the presentation of their 2021 World Series rings, as well as raising the second championship banner in franchise history.
That will certainly qualify as a fond Opening Day moment in the future — but what moments stand out from the Atlanta Braves’ past?
No 1. Jason Heyward’s three-run shot
Apr. 5, 2010, brought the long-awaited debut of rookie outfielder Jason Heyward, the Braves’ first selection in the 2007 MLB Draft.
After a spring spent smashing windshields and denting car hoods down in Orlando courtesy of his prodigious power, the Atlanta faithful were flush with anticipation for the J-Hey Kid’s first major league at-bat.
As he strode to the plate in the bottom of the first inning, the game knotted at 3-3, the crowd at Turner Field began a chant in unison of, “Ja-son Hey-ward.”
The chants reached a crescendo when Heyward swung at an offering by Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano — and promptly put it into the right-field seats.
“Swing and a drive! Belted right! Welcome to The Show!”
Chip Caray’s call on Jason Heyward’s first swing — and first home run — in the big leagues put a worthy exclamation point on the moment. The three-run blast would help the Braves go on to throttle the Cubs, 16-5.
Welcome to The Show, indeed.
No 2. Markakis walks ’em off
If you’re a Braves fan, you love to beat the Phillies. It’s a form of therapy. To do it on Opening Day is even better; in come-from-behind walk-off homer fashion? Perfection.
That’s exactly what right fielder Nick Markakis did on Opening Day in 2018. As Atlanta faced off against their NL East rival at home.
The Phillies piled up runs in the early innings, staking a 5-0 lead that they carried into the sixth. Some curious bullpen decisions and a Freddie Freeman homer put the Braves within striking distance.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning, with the score even at 5-5, and Phillies reliever Hector Neris was looking to move the game into extra innings. Then, Nick Markakis approached the plate with two on and two outs.
Bye, bye, baseball.
Markakis jumped on a hanging slider. And the fans jumped out of their seats as he sealed the Opening Day win. It was the first walk-off homer in Nick Markakis’ career. It didn’t seem possible at the time and still kind of doesn’t.
No 3. The Big Cat returns
Atlanta Braves first baseman Andres Galarraga missed the entire ’99 season as he underwent cancer treatment. Simply having him back in uniform and on the field would have made for a memorable Opening Day in 2000.
The Big Cat would make the most of his return to health and the baseball field by breaking a tie ballgame via a blast into the left-field seats.
He received a curtain call.
It was the perfect punctuation to Galarraga’s return to the field after treating and overcoming cancer. The fans at Turner Field certainly let him know that they were thrilled to see him back.
His homer also turned out to be the game-winner, as the Braves did not surrender a run and would top the Rockies 2-0.
Defense of title begins against Reds
It’s mere hours before the Braves take on the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park for Opening Day 2022.
They’ll be greeted with a hero’s welcome as they hoist the 2021 World Series pennant over the outfield wall — a soon-to-be cherished Opening Day memory in its own right. Hopefully, there are more memorable moments in store as the Braves look to defend their title.
Sadly, legal sports betting efforts in Georgia were recently quashed and MLB fans will have to wait at least another two years for any movement.
Photo by David J. Phillip/Associated Press