On April 3, 1994, the Cardinals and Reds opened the major-league season with a controversial Easter night game at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.
Because of the weather (39 degrees at first pitch, with steadily falling temperatures after a day of rain and snow flurries), the game probably shouldn’t have been played, but ESPN was televising a season opener for the first time and had heavily promoted it, so every effort was made to proceed as planned.
Reds owner Marge Schott and many Reds fans were opposed to their team opening the season on a Sunday night.
The Reds traditionally opened their season with a weekday afternoon game, starting with a parade in the morning. Cincinnatians adored the tradition and treated the day like a holiday.
To many Reds fans, the Sunday night opener was unacceptable and some expressed dissatisfaction by boycotting. The announced attendance was 32,803 in a stadium that seated almost 55,000. It was the smallest opening day crowd in Riverfront Stadium’s 24-year history and the first time the Reds hadn’t sold out a season opener in 10 years.
Schott and the Reds had agreed to the game when first approached, but Schott tried to renege when she learned the city wouldn’t host a parade before a night game.
“ESPN and Major League Baseball will have their opening day tonight,” Schott told the Associated Press. “The Reds’ opener is Monday.”
Schott ordered no bunting adorn the stadium for the night game. There were no player introductions. A Cincinnati radio station urged fans to bring banners, blasting ESPN.
Jon Miller, who broadcast the game for ESPN with former Reds second baseman Joe Morgan, was dismayed by Schott’s attitude. “I don’t understand how they would downplay the Sunday game,” Miller told the Associated Press. “It’s a marketing person’s dream: the Sunday opener and the traditional opener (Monday). What more could you want?”
Schott urged fans and her team to treat the opener like an exhibition. She spoke about the importance of the parade that would be held Monday morning. “We’ll have 20 more floats than we’ve ever had before,” she told the Associated Press. “The Air Force is coming in. Oh, and we’re going to have 300 pigeons, so keep your hat on.”
Cardinals outfielder Ray Lankford was the first batter of the 1994 season. On a 3-2 pitch from Jose Rijo, Lankford lined a home run over the left-center field fence.
It was the first time in eight years a leadoff batter opened the season with a homer. (Dwight Evans did it for Boston against Detroit’s Jack Morris in 1986). It also was the first time a Cardinal had hit a homer in the first inning of the first game since Darrell Porter launched a three-run shot off Houston’s Nolan Ryan on April 6, 1982.
“I was just anxious to get going,” Lankford told reporters in the locker room afterward. “When I was in here stretching, I started thinking about being the first batter of ’94. I wanted to do something. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that to open the season.”
With the score 3-3 in the fourth, Cardinals pitcher Bob Tewksbury, a notoriously poor hitter, lined a two-run, two-out double to center off Rijo, putting St. Louis ahead to stay, 5-3.
The unsung hero for the Cardinals was reliever Vincente Palacios. In the seventh, with St. Louis ahead 6-4, the Reds loaded the bases with two out and slugger Reggie Sanders at the plate. Reds fans became excited. Sanders had homered in his previous at-bat. There was a strong sense this was the moment for the Reds to strike. Palacios struck out Sanders and the Cardinals went on to win. Boxscore
“It didn’t seem like opening night at all,” Tewksbury told reporters. “Part of that I think is because it was a night game and part of that was that Marge treated it like she didn’t want it to be the opening game.”
Said Reds catcher Joe Oliver: “It was the first game this year and it just seemed like a middle of the season game. It was sort of disappointing. We got hyped and went out there and the place was half full.”