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ATLANTA — More than a quarter-century later, Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux remain thankful they can still laugh about the first Opening Day they spent together.
As the Braves opened the 1995 season against the Giants at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Maddux was gunning for a fourth straight Cy Young Award and Jones was an eager third baseman, making his much-anticipated first start at the big league level.
Maddux ended the first inning by getting Barry Bonds to hit a popup that would have seemed quite routine … had an eager Jones not collided with the veteran pitcher as first baseman Fred McGriff was securing the catch on the right side of the mound.
“I think I called him a piece of [expletive] rookie and said something like, ‘You know, we have 161 more of these to play, so relax,'” Maddux said.
Fortunately for the Braves, this was just the first of the many season openers Jones would play while wearing their uniform. The Hall of Fame third baseman had a knack for getting off on the right foot. He batted .351 (20-for-57) with two homers and a .955 OPS over 16 career Opening Day games.
As Jones remained a regular in Atlanta’s lineup from 1995-2012, he was present for a few of these Top 5 Opening Day moments in Braves history:
1. April 5, 2010: Heyward’s first swing
A standing-room-only crowd packed Turner Field to celebrate the Major League debut of Jason Heyward, a suburban Atlanta native who stood as baseball’s top prospect. Heyward sent the hometown faithful into a frenzy when he homered on the first swing of his career. The three-run shot off Carlos Zambrano created what is considered to be one of the loudest roars heard during the history of the Braves’ former stadium. The Braves beat the Cubs, 16-5, in their 2010 opener.
2. April 3, 2000: Galarraga’s grand return
After missing the 1999 season while undergoing treatment for lymphatic cancer, Andres Galarraga opened 2000 with a bang. His seventh-inning home run broke a scoreless tie and propelled the Braves to a 2-0 Opening Day win over the Rockies.
“Today is something special,” Galarraga told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s like a movie. Believe me, I don’t have the words to say how happy I am.”
3. March 29, 2018: Markakis’ Opening Day walk-off
Nobody predicted the 2018 season would include the Braves winning the first of three consecutive National League East titles. But Nick Markakis may have provided a slight hint when he concluded an 8-5 Opening Day win over the Phillies with a three-run homer off Hector Neris.
The Phillies led 5-0 before manager Gabe Kapler opted not to allow Aaron Nola to face Freddie Freeman with one out in the sixth. Freeman greeted Hoby Milner with a two-run homer and later drew a two-out walk against Neris in the bottom of the ninth. This set the stage for Markakis, who responded by drilling his first career walk-off homer into the right-field seats.
4. April 12, 1966: Memorable beginning
The first game in Atlanta history proved to be quite memorable for a few different reasons. The Braves didn’t get the result they were seeking. But while taking a 3-2, 13-inning loss to the Pirates, they created instant excitement for their new hometown fans.
Tony Cloninger went the distance for the Braves. He limited the Pirates to one run until Willie Stargell scored Roberto Clemente with a two-out, two-run homer in the 13th inning. Joe Torre accounted for all of Atlanta’s offense, hitting a pair of solo home runs, including one with one out in the bottom of the 13th.
Torre had also enjoyed a two-homer performance for the Braves to start the 1965 season. Eddie Mathews (’54 and ’58) is the only other player in franchise history with at least two multi-homer performances on Opening Day.