Nine surprising Opening Day starters for the Dodgers
By Jon Weisman
Every spring, there’s tons of edge-of-your-laptop anticipation over who will start for the Dodgers on Opening Day, even if it won’t mean much by the end of that year, month, week or game.
Going back 30 years, here are nine of the most eccentric picks for the Dodgers’ season-opening lineups. Do you remember them all? They’re each peculiar yet lovable in their own way …
- Mike Ramsey, CF (1987): Twelve years ago, Ramsey beat out 215 competitors at Dodger Thoughts to win the honor of Most Obscure but Memorable Dodger. In his only big-league season, Ramsey was the bridge between two World Series center fielders, Ken Landreaux and John Shelby. He wore No. 88 when Spring Training started and didn’t even have his picture in the media guide.
- Trenidad Hubbard, CF (1998): Nearly 34 years old, with all of 209 plate appearances in his entire career, Hubbard succeeded Brett Butler as the Dodgers’ Opening Day center fielder. The position was a revolving door, with Hubbard, Thomas Howard, Mike Devereaux, Todd Hollandsworth and Roger Cedeno shuttling through, until the Mike Piazza trade brought right fielder Gary Sheffield to Los Angeles, with Raul Mondesi shifting from right to center.
- Kevin Elster, SS (2000): You probably think I’m about to mention three home runs at the opening of Pacific Bell Park, but those came in the Dodgers’ seventh game of the Kramennium. The true Opening Day for Elster was at Montreal eight days earlier, when he went 0 for 3 with a walk. Still, given that the 35-year-old Elster had only signed that January after sitting out the previous year and wouldn’t play in the big leagues again after this season, he still stands out as a surprise.
- Sandy Alomar Jr., C (2006): Alomar, who was two months shy of his 40th birthday, had only 62 plate appearances in his Dodger career, but five of them came in this wild, 11-10 Opening Day loss to the Braves. Dioner Navarro was actually the Dodgers’ first-string catcher when the season began, with Russell Martin arriving a month later. My favorite memory of Alomar was the DodgerVision scoreboard infographic that talked about his personal steak sauce.)
- Blake DeWitt, 3B (2008): Injuries to Nomar Garciaparra, Andy LaRoche and Tony Abreu created a void that would be filled by the 22-year-old DeWitt, who had begun the previous year in Single-A. DeWitt actually reached base three times in his MLB debut and had a .372 OBP at the end of May.
- Vicente Padilla, P (2010): The last pitcher to start Opening Day before Clayton Kershaw, Padilla had pitched well down the stretch in 2009 and won the clinching game of the National League Division Series. But he had been released by the Rangers in August, and was still an unexpected choice for the first game of the season from a staff that included Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley. “We just had to pick somebody, and he was the one,” manager Joe Torre explained. “Am I saying he’s better than the other guys? I’m not saying that.”
- Luis Cruz, 3B (2013): The surprise of 2012, when he hit .297 in 78 games, Cruz took third base from the then-disappointment that was Juan Uribe. But Cruz managed only a .175 on-base percentage in 45 games before he was cut loose that July.
- Justin Sellers, SS (2013): Hanley Ramirez’s torn right thumb ligament opened the door for Sellers, who wasn’t even thought a contender for the Opening Day roster and who has 50 hits and a .280 on-base percentage in his big-league career.
- Justin Turner, 2B (2014): This makes far more sense in retrospect now than it did then. Turner, remember, had only been signed less than two months earlier on a non-roster, minor-league deal. Dee Gordon would be the regular at second base that season, but for the Dodgers’ season-opening game in Sydney, Australia, Turner got the call.