For Openers, a rare return engagement for Bucs

Opening Day in Cincinnati isn’t as big a deal as it was before ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball got in on the act. Now the Sunday night boys — it’s the Cardinals and the Cubs this year — get the jump on everyone else.

That used to be the Reds — in recognition of Cincinnati being the cradle of professional baseball. The parade, the pomp & circumstances, the bunting and confetti … it was all theirs.

So while it no longer comes with all the perks and attention, it is still noteworthy that the Bucs will open a season in Cincinnati — Monday, April 6 — for only the third time since 1959.

The last time the Bucs raised the curtain in Queen City was 2003, for the Great American Ball Park’s unveiling — and they did it with a three-game series sweep. That had marked a quick return engagement from the 2001 opener in Cinergy Field.

But prior to that, you had to go all the way back to 1963. Crosley Field. Danny Murtaugh and Fred Hutchinson in the dugouts. Roberto Clemente and Frank Robinson in the outfield.

And Pete Rose.

That is what I most remember about the ’63 opener. I watched Rose’s first big league game on KDKA Channel 2. In the bottom of the first, Rose drew a walk off Earl Francis, flung away his bat, and raced down to first base.

Bob Prince, The Gunner, went nuts behind the microphone at this first Charley Hustle sighting. I don’t believe that’s where the nickname originated; I think Rose showed up owning that. But in those blacked-out pre-Internet days, seeing it for yourself for the first time made an impression.

Obviously, still does.

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