This is my 11th Opening Day, and that’s really hard to believe. I can still remember my first one, in 1999. I was a nervous wreck that day. I still get butterflies on Opening Day, but it’ll be nothing like that first one. I spent most of my pre-game in the restroom. My stomach was driving me crazy. I had been called up in ’98 and played six games, but this was my first Opening Day — and every player remembers that feeling the first time.
Butterlies are normal. I think every player feels a little anxiety on Opening Day. I remember Paul Molitor, who played for 21 seasons, telling me he always got butterflies on Opening Day. You’re anxious to get started, to get it going. You want to get off to a great start. After tha first at-bat, the nerves go away and you just settle in and play the game. Your instincts take over.
That first Opening Day with the Twins, I got a hit, scored a run and got an RBI. We beat Toronto, 6-1. Pat Hentgen was pitching for them. I just remember how great it felt to be on the field with a Major League team. I was leading off and playing center field, 23 years old. I remember the announcer saying, “Leading off and playing center field, No. 48, Torii Hunter.” It’s still fresh in my mind, how that sounded. And how nervous I was.
Opening Day last year was something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. We were back in Minnesota, where I’d grown up as a player and a person, where I learned the game. I was surrounded by all these people I knew and loved, and I was wearing another uniform. It was a very strange experience. There was so much going on emotionally, it was very difficult for me to play that day.
I didn’t have a good day, I remember that. We lost, and I didn’t get a hit. I finally settled down during the series and got some hits, got some things done. We won three games. I was just relieved when it was over. I got standing ovations from the fans, which was great, and they presented me my Gold Glove. But I felt strange the whole time. I wonder if that’s ever happened before, a guy playing all those years in one place and then opening his first season in another uniform in that same stadium where he grew up.
Coming to Angel Stadium for the first time, playing in front of my new home crowd in my new home, that was totally different. I loved everything about that. I had some great moments right off the bat, hitting a walk-off grand slam, making some catches. I remember getting hit in my car on the way to one of the games, too.
I’m really happy with where our team is, the chemistry we have on the field and in the clubhouse. I want to get it going, have a great year. Once I have that first at-bat out of the way, and get rid of the butterflies, it’s on. I can’t wait.