It was Opening Day, 1994. April 4, to be exact. I couldn’t know it at the time, but it was 5 years to the day before my first child would be born. My wife and I were in full-on DINKS mode, which explains why we were at Wrigley Field that day.
I found the picture above and had two reactions to it. The first was that the Wrigley Field scoreboard has come a long way in the intervening years. It now allows for adding some extra information about the player at bat, beyond what their stats for the day were. And, more importantly, those stats are now flanked by corporate signage on either side of the player’s stats. The Cubs’ maximization of their advertising revenue stream hasn’t yet translated into a World Series appearance, but I digress.
The second thing I thought of was what a great day Tuffy Rhodes had. He was 3-for-3, and all were homers hit off of Dwight “Doc” Gooden, who was one of the best pitchers there was back in 1994. When he came to bat in the sixth inning, Rhodes was indisputably the league leader in home runs, and in batting average, too. And he had at least one chance to become an immortal by hitting 4 homers in the same game (it turns out he didn’t, but he did end up 4-for-4 on the day).
It’s impossible to follow up on that, but the next day he managed to go 2-for-4, and was still hitting a robust .750 when the day ended. I was at that game too, but I don’t think I’ve been to consecutive home games since.
There was no place to go for Tuffy Rhodes but down, and that’s exactly what happened. He finished 1994 with the Cubs, and had his best season ever in the majors. But he was waived in 1995, and finished the season after a few games with Boston in the American League.
His major league career ended with 13 home runs, three of them coming on that one glorious day. But Tuffy Rhodes wasn’t done. He went to Japan, and was able to keep on playing there until 2009, when he ended his career at the age of 41. There was still a lot more baseball for Tuffy Rhodes to play, even if he had to cross the Pacific Ocean in order to do it.
The takeaway from this is that some days you have the world by the tail. If you could stop time on April 5, 1994, Tuffy Rhodes would have been fine with that, I’m sure. But life marches on, and you have to adjust to the fact that every day won’t be so great. Tuffy Rhodes didn’t want to leave the majors, but he was able to adapt and do what he needed to do to keep playing baseball for a living. My hat was off to him on that day, when the bleachers reacted to his third homer by showering the field with hats (for a hat trick, get it?) And now–knowing what I know all these years later–it remains off to him on this day.