Opening Day: A Major Leaguer’s Inside Story
by former Met Ty Kelly
🧓 by Ty Kelly, Mets Fix’s Resident “Former Met”
If there’s one sentiment that describes the first week of the Major League Baseball season for fans and players alike, it’s got to be: “This Could Be the Year.”
Everyone comes to camp “in the best shape of my life” but until Opening Day arrives, you really have no idea what the season has in store. And “This Could Be the Year” can undergo a lot of changes and versions as the season advances.
Here’s the story of my Major League opening day with the Mets in 2017. It had been quite a spring: I was designated for assignment (DFA’ed), cleared waivers, entered camp as the most humbled version of a player possible (i.e., no longer on the 40-man roster), played in the World Baseball Classic for Team Israel, went back to camp in Florida, and, thanks to some stuff happening and pieces falling into place... I made the Big League Opening Day roster — back on the 40-man and important again! “Maybe this could be the year,” I thought.
Before the big day, the guys making their first Opening Day Roster met David Wright in the back studio of a Midtown department store and got fitted for clothes. We each picked out a suit, blazer, and button-down shirt — all on his tab. At this point in my life, I owned two suits — both of which my dad had bought for me at a Men’s Warehouse in Salt Lake City, Utah when I had just been promoted to Triple-A, four years earlier.
The next day, we rookies got our physical initiation: we were put, clothed, into shallow laundry carts and wheeled into the shower to be sprayed with a beer shower. We licked whatever remaining alcohol we could salvage from our faces and then showered off, emerging from the steam as legitimate members of the team — not just mercenaries. “This is the year,” we collectively imagined.
Then Opening Day arrived. The rookies were nervous and the veterans were ready for a 162-game season. Everyone wants to get off to a hot start to make things easy for themselves, but the season is just too long to worry about whether your first few grounders to the left side get through or not. (I once started a season 0-18 and was pretty sure I would not get a hit all year. I ended up hitting .263 with 15 home runs.)
Fans came out in the freezing cold like it was a World Series game in November. They begrudgingly clapped for me as I was introduced as a reserve before the game. The big applause came for the starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who came out and dominated as we beat the Braves in a shutout. The team didn’t even need me to play.
The next day was an off-day, so my dad and I went to a Knicks game. We got last-minute tickets in the upper deck. During the first timeout, the jumbotron brightly displayed Noah and his girlfriend, seated courtside — huge applause again. “Just wait — I’ll be up on that jumbotron someday; this could be the year,” I (foolishly) dreamt.
The next day, the team did need me to play. A mercenary-esque pinch-hit with a chance to tie the game. I pumped myself up: “This is why you’re here. This could be the ye—” A strikeout. We lost. A few days later, after having not needed my services since the strikeout, I was DFA’d again. “I guess this isn’t the year, after all.”
The next few days, I waited in my hotel for someone to tell me if I was claimed off waivers, not knowing what the whirlwind next two weeks would have in store.
After sitting in my hotel room for a day, I went to the Eataly by the World Trade Center with my parents and got recognized by someone who worked there. My dad loved that. I got claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays and flew to Toronto the next day. The customs officer didn’t want to give me a work visa but, luckily, someone had already changed my Wikipedia to say that I played for the Blue Jays, so when he decided to Google me, he found that webpage and decided it — and I — was legit, and allowed me to work in the country.
I went to the team hotel (located inside the stadium) and was told to wait there until they figured out if Josh Donaldson needed to go on the Disabled List. No problem. Three days and a self-led walking tour of Toronto later, I was sent back to Triple-A Buffalo because Josh didn’t need to go on the DL. But after playing two games on the road in Scranton, I got called back up to Toronto — this time for real.
I was in the Big Leagues again with new life — in the clubhouse, meeting the coaching staff, meeting the chefs who wanted to know my specific food preferences, meeting the training staff who was designing my specialized workout program. Three games on the bench and three moot “get ready for a (mercenary-esque) pinch-run”s later, I was DFA’d again. Then I got claimed by the Phillies and that’s when things really did change.
I was sent to Philly and told to wait for the last game of the series and the ensuing off-day, and then I would finally be put on the roster. As I sat in yet another hotel waiting for a chance to actually play baseball, I was totally confident it would be my year. This was it. I was really on the team. I wasn’t going anywhere. “This could be the ye—… Nothing? I’m still here? I haven’t been DFA’d or traded or sent down or anything? I’m not dead, am I?”
I wasn’t dead. I spent the rest of the year — save for four games in Triple-A Lehigh Valley — as a Big Leaguer in Philadelphia. It was different from how I planned it, but I got to feel like I was a real person on a Major League Baseball team. I even made plans further than one week in advance. I mean, I still stayed in a hotel for the entire season but I had them book me for every homestand, automatically. It wasn’t the year but it was still a great year.
The moral of this story? Whatever you think is going to happen during the season, is definitely not going to happen. Or at least not in the exact way you think. Opening Day is fun and exciting and might be a sign of things to come. Or it might just be a snapshot of how people play in April when it’s mostly too cold to function.
In any case, this could be the year.