I've been sharing my memories of the Toronto Blue Jays, absorbed during the fanatical years of 1983-1993. I started by writing about the ten home run attack in September of 1987, then recalled the day we clinched in 1985 and followed that up with memories of Roberto Alomar's playoff game tying homer against Eckersley. This time, I'm revisiting opening day, 1988.
Throughout most of the 80s, George Bell was my favourite Blue Jay. 1987 was his best season when he hit 47 homers and drove in 134 runs, becoming the first and only Blue Jay to win American League MVP honours. His 47 home runs is still a franchise record and he became the first Jay elected to start an all-star game. Who will ever forget that series at Comiskey Park when he hit two over the left field roof?
Unfortunately for this fan of #11, Bell and manager Jimy Williams never quite got along. Following his MVP season, Williams let Bell know he would primarily play DH in '88. Bell wanted to play left field, and on March 17th he refused to bat against the Red Sox in protest. Part of what I liked about Bell was his overwhelming passion, which often got the better of him. He wasn't interested in the part time duties that come with being the designated hitter. Bell was a full-time player.
Opening day was April 4th and the Jays were in Kansas City to kick things off. April 4th was Easter Monday which meant a four day weekend and no school. Our family went to Gilford, Ontario to visit my grandparents and that's where we watched this game. As was our ritual at the time, we each assumed the persona of three batters and lived precariously through them throughout the game. I, of course, had dibs on George Bell.
In four at bats Bell went deep three times off of Royals ace Bret Saberhagen. I couldn't believe the first, I was extremely excited about the second and when the third left the park I was beside myself. It was (and I believe still is) an opening day record and it was done from the DH spot. In typical George Bell fashion, his statement following the 5-3 win was "I got too many things on my mind to be happy right now". He went 5 for 5 in game two.
Bell hit 202 career home runs as a Blue Jay, but I'll never forget those three on opening day 1988. I almost overloaded the calculator realizing he was on pace for 486 homers that season. Now that woulda been something.