Sutcliffe, Hoiles reunite for 2012's first pitch

Sutcliffe, Hoiles reunite for 2012's first pitch

Sutcliffe, Hoiles reunite for 2012's first pitch
BALTIMORE -- Rick Sutcliffe walked out to the mound just before 3 p.m. ET on Friday, nearly 20 years to the moment when he threw the first pitch at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The big right-hander toed the rubber and fired a strike to former Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles, his batterymate on the stadium's Opening Day in 1992.

"It looked like a changeup," Sutcliffe said with a smile. "But it wasn't."

Sutcliffe helped turn the first Opening Day at this stadium into a memorable one, going the distance in a 2-0 victory over the Indians in 1992. He returned Friday to help the O's celebrate the 20th anniversary of the park's opening. And it's easy to see how much Sutcliffe enjoyed taking part in that special day.

"There was always going to be another Opening Day, but there was never going to be another first Opening Day at Camden Yards," Sutcliffe said. "Honestly, that's what brought me here [that year]."

Then-manager Johnny Oates had lured Sutcliffe by bringing him to the stadium during the final stages of construction. Oates walked him to the mound and told the veteran he would throw the first pitch in the new ballpark. Sutcliffe eventually did come to Baltimore and helped anchor the young Orioles rotation that year.

Hoiles agreed with Sutcliffe that returning to the ballpark 20 years after it opened brought back a flood of memories.

"There was a lot of special things going on that day," Hoiles said. "It's emotional coming back after 20 years. That's what we were talking about before we went out. We can't believe it's been 20 years already -- it seems like just yesterday."

Bruce Cunningham and Keith Mills are two local journalists who were here on the first Opening Day. Both still marvel at what Oriole Park grew into and how much of an effect it's had on baseball and life in Baltimore.

Cunningham, a sports anchor with Fox 45 in Baltimore, said his first look at the park in 1992's Opening Day was something he'll never forget.

"We were all bummed out at the end of '91, very sad that Memorial Stadium was closing," Cunningham said. "But then Opening Day comes, and we come in here and look around and all [thought], 'OK, yes, this is a lot better than Memorial Stadium.' It was a sea change."

Mills is from Baltimore and works as a sportscaster with WBAL (TV and Radio). He said Oriole Park has meant more to Baltimore than just having a nice place to play.

"It's just been an absolute galvanizing force," Mills said. "It's brought people together from all over the city, all over the region to come celebrate everything that's good about Baltimore."

The combination of Opening Day and debut of a new ballpark was something overwhelming in 1992 and still remembered in Baltimore 20 years later.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter touched on that in his pregame talk to the media, explaining that, to him and probably most others associated with baseball, Opening Day always will be something special.

"Anybody that says it's just one game -- it isn't," Showalter said. "There's a million reasons why. It's a tradition for families. I think it's one of those days when you do live in the short term. I'm OK with that. I stand accused."

That's what made 1992 Opening Day so special -- along with 2012.

It's a new time, a new year, a new season filled with hope. But for those here on the first day of 1992, the memories of the win over the Indians plus the awe of a new baseball stadium combined to make it a memorable day.

What added to the memory of that first Opening Day was the park's design, something that seemed to catch the attention of many. Sutcliffe, who works on ESPN's baseball telecasts, said he returned to Oriole Park to work the game between the Orioles and Red Sox last Sept. 28 and was again struck by its design.

"To me, it hadn't changed a bit," he said. "It was every bit as beautiful. It was fun to be back here."

He also clearly enjoyed returning to the mound to throw the first pitch of this Opening Day. Sutcliffe joked that he wasn't throwing quite as hard, but when asked about that, Hoiles defended his former battery-mate with the kind of smile usually seen on Opening Day.

"Hey, I thought he threw a fastball," Hoiles said. "He let it go."

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.