For the past 142 (well 141 but who’s counting) one team has not heard the words home opening game. They have not had to. Every season they have opened at home and the home opener was just called Opening Day of Major League Baseball. It might be because they were the first Professional Team. It might be because of their location. It might be because they almost sell out every time. It might be because they are the Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds started out as the first openly professional team in 1866, just one year after the Civil War. Baseball was in it infancy at the time and over the next 16 years many changes came. In 1876 the team started playing in the newly formed National league. Over the next few years the team moved to a new league, but by 1890 the team had rejoined the National League for good and baseball was on its way to becoming a great american pastime.
Cincinnati was the southern most city in the league. With harsh winters and less experienced grounds keepers, other teams were happy to visit the “warm” city. Before tv, radio, or movies baseball and other live events were some of the only form of entertainment around. This meant that the Reds opening game was almost always a sellout. With a cut of the sellout profits and a better climate visiting teams decided to keep playing in the Queen city on the first day of the season. Be it tradition or an homage to the fact they were the first pro team, the Reds have opened the season at home on the first day of play ever since.
The fanfare and the Parade
At the turn of the 19th century Baseball, like most early years of a sport, had not formed the single major league they are now. The National League was competing with the American Association. To stand out the teams promoted Opening day more and more. If fan was a fan of your team, the thought went, they would stay all season. To promote the game Cincinnati drove both the Reds, the visiting team, and a marching band down the streets to the field hyping the upcoming game along the way. This lasted until 1902 when the team stopped their parade. The fans decided to continue on their own.
For the next 2 decades local groups, known as rooters, would meet and march towards the game, promoting both the game and themselves along the way. in 1920 Findlay Market joined in on the fun, becoming one of the loudest and largest of them all. After a while the rooter groups stopped marching towards the game. The tradition faded. The only one left marching was the Findlay Market group. Being the largest of them all changed the event from a tailgate fan event to a full fledge parade, albeit a small one.
Eventually the Ball park they were marching too moved downtown and the parade route took on a new direction and scope. What had once been a group of shop owners heading toward the park nearby became the citywide holiday event that many in Major League Baseball have come to recognize as the start of the season nationwide.