Cincinnati’s Holiday – Opening Day
Posted On: 04/03/2017 - 9:47am, Posted By: Other
The post was originally written by Beth Gerber, who has retired from her position as CMC's Preservation Manager. It has been edited by Scott Gampfer, Director of History Collections and Library.
Cincinnati loves celebrating the Reds’ first baseball game of the season and has come to think of that day, Opening Day, as a special occasion unique to the city.
In the early years the first day of the baseball season was merely called the “first championship game,” the “first League game” and often more colorfully the “lid-lifter,” the “bell-tap” or the “gong-tap.” By the 1940s the common term was “the opener” and by the 1970s “Opening Day” with capital letters described the start of the baseball season.
“Opening Day Scenes Cartoon,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 18, 1895.
While many Cincinnatians believe that Major League Baseball gave the Reds the privilege to open every season at home, it is actually a tradition rather than a formal rule. Weather and other factors have prevented the Reds’ opener from being played at home a few times over the years, but 1888 was the only year that the opening game was actually scheduled to be on the road. A Reds’ home season opener has become a time-honored city tradition.
In baseball’s infancy, the first game of the season drew little attention. However, by the 1890s baseball’s growing popularity and the Reds’ promotional efforts brought attention to this special event. Early celebrations featured club-sponsored concerts, banners, bunting, bands, and street parades. After a few years the Reds’ club cancelled the team-sponsored festivities, but groups of fans, called “rooters’ groups,” donned costumes, carried noisemakers, and led organized processions through downtown in horse-drawn wagons. The Findlay Market rooters’ club celebrated the Reds’ 1919 World Championship win by celebrating the 1920 Opening Day and continued to make it an annual event.
Opening Day parade on the field at League Park, c.1890s. League Park was located at Western Avenue and Findlay Street.
The early parades were small, marching the ten blocks from Findlay Market to Crosley Field. While other groups supported Opening Day, the Findlay Market Association played a major role in the ceremonies. The first Opening Day at Riverfront Stadium in 1971 brought a much larger event, with the parade marching through the heart of downtown to the stadium. Over the years the entry list of organizations participating in the Findlay Market Parade has grown and today more than 200 organizations participate.
While other ball clubs in other cities celebrate Opening Day, most Cincinnatians agree no place celebrates Opening Day like Cincinnati. NBC’s Today Show even broadcast the show live from Fountain Square in 1956 to highlight Cincinnati’s traditional Opening Day ceremonies. Perhaps former Reds’ coach Sparky Anderson put it best: “It’s a holiday – a baseball holiday! Ain’t no other place in America got that!”
View of stands at Crosley Field showing opening day crowd, c.1930s.