This article was written by L. Robert Davids
This article was published in 1982 Baseball Research Journal
Minnesota’s new enclosed stadium, the Metrodome, was dedicated on April 6, 1982 with a game against the visiting Seattle Mariners. It came as no surprise to baseball historians that it was baptized with a home run — actually several home runs. This was the 31st opening of a new major league park in the last 60 years and on all but two occasions the first game was featured by a home run.
The two exceptions were the opening of Municipal Stadium in Cleveland on July 31, 1932, and the Astrodome in Houston on April 12, 1965. The Cleveland opening before some 80,000 fans turned out to be a 1-0 thriller won by Lefty Grove of the Athletics. It was a week later before Johnny Burnett of the Indians hit the first roundtripper in the huge stadium and it came off Al Thomas of Washington. Mickey Mantle hit the first home run in the Astrodome, but it came in an exhibition game before the 1965 season started. The league opening on April 12 resulted in a 2-0 victory for Philadelphia and no home runs. The next day the Phils’ Richie Allen came through with the first roundtripper in the Astrodome. Those were the only two times that a new park was opened without a home run since the lively ball era began in 1920.
Babe Ruth set the standard with the opening of Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923 by hitting a home run off Howard Ehmke of the Red Sox. He was not the only big home run hitter to have this first-day honor. Willie Stargell of the Pirates hit the initial four-bagger in Shea Stadium; Boog Powell of the Orioles connected first in Oakland Coliseum; Henry Aaron of the Braves spoiled Cincinnati’s Riverfront opening; and Tony Perez of the Reds blasted the first ball out of Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Ironically, those four sluggers were all visiting players, which did not sit well with the local fans. It was left to Frank Howard to revive the Babe Ruth tradition when he launched a Texas-size wallop for the Rangers in the opening of Arlington Stadium in 1972.
The first major league home run hit in a foreign country was walloped by Mack Jones of the Expos at the opening of Jarry Park in Montreal on April 14, 1969. The most famous pitcher to give up a home run in a new park was Steve Carlton at the dedication of Olympic Stadium in Montreal, April 15, 1977. Ellis Valentine did the honors. Camilo Pascual of Minnesota was the only pitcher to give up two opening homers and they came only a week apart in 1961. The first was at the home opener in Metropolitan Stadium and the other was at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field, which was used only that one year.
The opening at the Metrodome in Minneapolis this past year was one of the few openers that was not postponed because of snow or cold weather. The immediate reaction was “good planning” for this enclosed structure. The atmosphere warmed up quickly inside as the balls started flying out of the playing field. Dave Engle of Minnesota connected in the first inning off Floyd Bannister of Seattle before a capacity crowd of 52,279. While Engle hit the first fourbagger, Gary Gaetti was the real hometown star with two homers, a triple and a single. Nevertheless, the Twins lost 11-7.
Here is the list of new park openings since 1920 with the batter who hit the first home run. Each came on opening date except for the aforementioned Houston Astrodome and Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.
City and Stadium 1st Homer Batter and Club Opposing Hurler
New York, Yankee S. 4/18/23 Babe Ruth, N.Y. Howard Ehmke, Bos.
Clev. Municipal Stad. 8/7/ 32 J. Burnett, Clev. M Thomas, Wash.
Md. County Stadium 4/14/53 Bill Bruton, Mil. Gerry Staley, StL
Bait. Mem. Stadium 4/15/54 C. Courtney, Bait. Virgil Trucks, Chi.
K.C. A’s Mun. Stad. 4/12/55 Bob Wilson, Det. Alex Kellner, K.C.
S.F. Seals Stadium 4/15/58 D. Spencer, S.F. Don Drysdale, L.A.
L.A. Mem. Coliseum 4/18/58 Hank Sauer, S.F. Carl Erskine, L.A.
S.F. Candlestick Park 4/12/60 Leon Wagner, 5th Sam Jones, S.F.
Miun. Metro. Stadium 4/21/61 Dale Long, Wash. C. Pascual, Minn.
L.A. Wrigley Field 4/27/61 Earl Averill, L.A. C. Pascual, Minn.
Wash. Kennedy Stad. 4/9/62 R. Johnson, Wash. Don Mossi, Det.
Houston, Colt Stad. 4/10/62 R. Mejias, Hous. D. Cardwll, Chi.
L.A. Dodger Stadium 4/10/62 Wally Post, Cin. John Podres, L.A.
New York, Shea Stad. 4/17/64 W. Stargell, Pitt. Jack Fisher, N.Y.
Houston Astrodome 4/13/65 Richie Mien, Phil. Bob Bruce, Hous.
Atlanta Stadium 4/12/66 Joe Torre, Atl. Bob Veale, Pitt.
Cal. Anaheim Stadium 4/19/66 R. Reichardt, Cal. Tommy John, Chi.
St. Louis, Busch Stad. 5/12/66 Felipe Alou, Ad. Ray Washburn, StL
Oakland Coliseum 4/17/68 Boog Powell, Balt. Lew Krausse, Oak.
San Diego Stadium 4/8/69 Ed Spiezio, S.D. Don Wilson, Hous.
Seattle, Sicks’ Stad. 4/11/69 Don Mincher, Sea. Joel Horlen, Chi.
Mont. Jarry Park 4/14/69 Mack Jones, Mont. Nelson Briles, StL
Cinc. Riverfront Stad. 6/30/70 Henry Aaron, Atl. Jim McGlothlin, Cin.
Pitt. Three Rivers S. 7/16/70 Tony Perez, Cin. Dock Ellis, Pitt.
Phil. Veterans Stad. 4/10/71 Don Money, Phil. Bill Stoneman, Mont.
Texas, Arlington Stad. 4/21/72 Frank Howard, Tex. Clyde Wright, Cal.
K.C. Royals Stadium 4/10/73 John Mayberry, KC B. Gogolewski, Tex.
Seattle Kingdome 4/6/77 Joe Ruth, Cal. Diego Segui, Sea.
Toronto Exhibition S. 4/7/77 Richie Zisk, Chi. Bill Singer, Tor.
Mont. Olympic Stad. 4/15/77 B. Valentine, Mont. Steve Carlton, Phil.
Minn. Metrodome 4/6/82 Dave Engle, Min. Fl. Bannister, Sea.