3/25/2014 12:19 P.M. ET
Torii fondly recalls 1999 opener at Tiger Stadium
By Torii Hunter / Special to MLB.com
Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter sat down recently with MLB.com to share his memories of Opening Day.
Opening Day is a special moment. There are some things you never forget. Especially for me, the year I went to Tiger Stadium in '99 -- it's something you never forget because of the history that was there. I don't even remember opening up in the Metrodome that year against Toronto. I just remember that moment in Detroit. It was my first year making the Opening Day roster. I was excited about that.
In '97, I had a good spring. In '98, I hit like .400, and I was like, "Yeah, I made it. I'm going to make the team." I stayed to the last few days, and I was thinking, "Yeah, I might make it." And, "No, we want you to go work on something," they said. It was already set in stone. They had Otis Nixon, and he was ahead of me. I think he was 38, 39 at the time, but he had the experience. They just told me to go down, keep playing, keep working. They called me up a couple of weeks later, actually, but I didn't make the Opening Day roster. But in '99 I did.
W: Nathan L: Davis
I was batting leadoff. It was freezing, I remember that. The old Tiger Stadium had these silver sliding doors on the visitors' side clubhouse, and they put my locker right there next to the door, because I was a rookie. That draft, oh man. The door was right here, and my locker was right there. It was unbelievable. That was history, the last year of Tiger Stadium. I played in Fenway Park in '98, and that was cool, but Tiger Stadium, that's a memory of mine. That's something I'll never forget, maybe because it was the last year of it. They call your name, you go on the baseline. You're looking at Tiger Stadium, and I played video games with this. I was younger and I had seen it on TV. I'd seen Cecil Fielder hit a ball over the top, all the highlights. There I was.
I remember opening up in Detroit four times. My first year was '99, but we opened at Comerica Park a few times. It was a celebration, planes flying over. You've got superstars from Motown singing. That's why I always liked when we were in Detroit for Opening Day. Every time we went in April, it seemed like it was their Opening Day. Every time we'd go there, they'd be calling our names out, and there was always somebody singing from Motown. That's something I always remembered: Motown never dies there. Aretha Franklin was singing, so that stuck with me. The planes flying over, the fans, the balloons being released, it was a great celebration.
I remember those Opening Days more than I do in Minnesota, because of the dome. You couldn't see anything flying over the dome, or the sunshine. If it was warm or cold outside, you didn't know. We opened last year at Target Field, and it was freezing. The steam was rising off the infield, because they had the heated field, and so my feet weren't that cold. It was my hands and my ears and the back of my neck. You're out there and trying to warm your neck up and your ears and your fingertips. And then, when you're hitting, you hit the ball and you hit it square on the barrel of the bat, but it still hurt. If you hit it off the end, you're done. If you hit it off the handle, you're done. But even if you hit it good, you'd feel like your fingers just fell at the plate while you were running. You'd be like, "Pick them up, pick them up!"
You have this vision of Opening Day, and you never really get rid of it. All these young guys that are coming up this year, ready for their first Opening Day, it's going to be at Comerica Park, and it's going to be rocking. For me, that was 15, 16 years ago. I tell kids just to soak it in and enjoy it. I want them to come out, soak in the festivities before the game, have a good time. But once the game starts, it's like in football or basketball. You have the butterflies, then once you get fouled, or once you get hit for the first time, or once you hit a ball hard, it's over with. The butterflies go away. And then you just flow. You don't get butterflies anymore for the whole season. That's all it is -- the anxiety of getting ready for the season. You want to do something, and you don't know what they expect. And then when you strike out, or get a hit, or get hit, the play is on you, you hear fans cheering for you or whatever, and you're like, "All right, I'm good. Let's go."
For me, this is my 15th, 16th Opening Day, and I still have the anxiety of the expectations, different things like that. It's something that won't stop. You're excited to get the season started. It's always going to be there. It just takes one pitch or one play to get rid of it and let you take a deep breath and say, "I'm ready."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.