Making it to the major leagues is an outstanding accomplishment. Earning a start on opening day, a sacred occasion in baseball, is a distinct honor. That said, not everyone whose name is scrawled on the first lineup card of the season is a legend, a known commodity or even someone people will remember five years later.
Using Baseball-Reference’s catalogue of opening day lineups, I went back to the turn of the century and picked out the guys whose careers included the celebrated start -– but not too much else. Let’s give'em another moment in the sun here.
Pitcher: Dewon Brazelton
2005 Devil Rays. Brazelton apparently went through a lot just to get to majors. Once there, the third pick of the 2001 draft from Middle Tennessee State made just 43 starts, but one of them came on opening day 2005, when he pitched decently in a loss to the Blue Jays. Brazelton finished that season 1-8 with a 7.61 ERA, was traded in the off-season to the Padres and has not appeared in MLB since May 11, 2006. Last season he was pitching for the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent Northern League. Honorable Mentions: Runelvys Hernandez (’03 Royals), Ryan Drese (’05 Rangers).
Catcher: Hector Ortiz
2001 Royals. The ’01 Royals gave at least 100 plate appearances to four different catchers on their way to losing 97 games. One of those was Ortiz, a 35th-round pick of the Dodgers in 1988 who had appeared in 30 games for the Royals the previous three seasons. In spring training that year, Gregg Zaun tore a muscle in his calf, opening up the Day 1 start for Ortiz, who collected one of his 75 big-league hits that afternoon. Ortiz played seven games for the Rangers the next year and hung around the minors through 2005. Honorable Mentions: Danny Ardoin (’06 Rockies), Ken Huckaby (’03 Blue Jays).
First Base: Scott Thorman
2007 Braves. The Braves selected Thorman in the first round of the 2000 draft out of Ontario, Canada, brought him to the majors in 2006 and handed the 25-year-old the starting job the following season after dealing Adam LaRoche to the Pirates. Thorman went 0-for-4 in the opener against the Phillies and never found his way at the plate at the big league level, hitting .216/.258/.394 in 307 plate appearances in '07. He has been stuck in the minors ever since, playing last season for the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate. Honorable Mentions: Kevin Barker (’00 Brewers), Lance Niekro (’06 Giants).
Second Base: Jose Ortiz
2001 Athletics, 2002 Rockies. Ortiz exhibited enough potential to start on Opening Day for two teams, but produced so little that he received fewer than 500 MLB appearances in his career. Signed by Oakland out of the Dominican in 1994, Ortiz was the 2000 Pacific Coast League MVP after putting up a .983 OPS for Sacramento. Awarded the second base job the next season, Ortiz went 2-for-5 on opening day but was hitting .179 by April 14 and was demoted. In June, the A’s sent him to Colorado as part of a deadline deal for Jermaine Dye. He played the rest of the season for the Rockies and began 2002 with them, but after hitting .250/.315/.313 in 215 plate appearances, was non-tendered and mostly has plied his trade in Japan since. Honorable Mentions: Bobby Hill (’04 Pirates), Ruben Gotay (’05 Royals).
Third Base: Tom Evans
2000 Rangers. Evans played 19 games for the Blue Jays in 1997-98 and spent all of 1999 at Triple-A for the Rangers. He then found himself battling hot prospect Mike Lamb for the right to replace Todd Zeile at the hot corner to start the 2000 season. A good spring sealed the job for the 25-year-old former fourth-round pick, but that only lasted a few weeks, and Evans went down for the season in May with a partially torn rotator cuff and a torn labrum. He never again played in the majors. Honorable Mentions: Brian Barden (’09 Cardinals), Brandon Larson (’03 Reds).
Shortstop: Brian Bocock
2008 Giants. Injuries force teams to give players proverbial cups of coffee all the time, and sometimes it happens at the beginning of the season. Such was the case with the ’08 Giants, who had to find a way to plug a hole for the first month of the season while Omar Vizquel recovered from knee surgery. They turned to Bocock, a 23-year-old with a .656 OPS between two Class A levels the year prior, because of his defensive reputation. The former ninth-round pick went 0-for-1 with two walks on opening day and picked up his first hit and first RBI the next day. But by the time Vizquel was activated and Bocock mercifully demoted in early May, he was hitting .143/.258/.156. His only big league action since was five hitless at-bats with the Phillies last season. Honorable Mentions: Jose Nieves (’00 Cubs), Luis Hernandez (’08 Orioles).
LF: Kit Pellow
2004 Rockies. As far as I can tell, Pellow holds the distinction of being the only player in MLB history with Kit as a given name. In 2004, he came to Rockies camp as a non-roster invitee who had tasted the bigs with the Royals in ’02 and the Rockies in ’03. He not only won a spot on the team -– his ability to play catcher in addition to the outfield helped -– but drew the opening day nod against Randy Johnson. Pellow wound up hitting .240/.308/.347 in 133 plate appearances, and his role diminished after Colorado called up some guy named Matt Holliday in mid-April. Since then, Pellow’s career, according to Wikipedia, has led him to the independent leagues, China and Mexico, where he won the 2008 Mexican League Triple Crown for the Saltillo Saraperos. Honorable Mentions: Paul McAnulty (’08 Padres), Roosevelt Brown (’02 Cubs).
CF: Eric Reed
2006 Marlins. Florida manager Joe Girardi started six rookies on opening day ’06, including Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla … and Reed. A speedster with little power, the 25-year-old hit .310 in Triple-A the year before but proved to be overmatched against major league pitching. In 68 plate appearances in 2006-07, Reed notched six hits, all singles, and posted an OPS+ of negative-28. That’s the lowest career mark for any non-pitcher with at least 50 PAs. Reed last played in the minors in 2008. Honorable Mentions: Brandon Watson (’06 Nationals), Bo Porter (’01 Rangers).
RF: Brandon Berger
2003 Royals. Berger was a 28-year-old non-prospect with 57 games of big league experience when the ’03 season rolled around. But an injury to Carlos Beltran opened up a roster spot. For the March 31 opener, the Royals were facing White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, whom Berger had smacked four home runs against in 17 previous plate appearances. Those numbers resulted in the opening day nod, but Berger wound up playing only 13 big league games that year and 11 more the next, eventually ending his career with the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate in 2005. Honorable Mentions: Ron Calloway (’03 Expos), Eric Valent (’05 Mets).
DH: Calvin Pickering
2005 Royals Pickering was the 10th man from the U.S. Virgin Islands to play in MLB. Despite being a 35th-round pick, the hefty lefty walloped his way through the minors and debuted with the Orioles in 1998. He never really found a foothold and bounced around to Cincinnati, Boston and then Kansas City. Heading into the ’05 season, Pickering’s power and patience made him a “cause célèbre” of the sabermetric crowd. Pickering, by then 28 years old, beat out 2004 AL All-Star Ken Harvey for a roster spot as a 1B/DH and won the Opening Day start. He homered that day off the Tigers’ Ugueth Urbina, but the eventual 106-loss Royals lost their patience after just 31 plate appearances, four hits and 14 strikeouts. Pickering went on to play in the independent leagues, Mexico and Korea but was done in The Show. Honorable Mention: Billy McMillon (’01 Tigers).
-- Andrew Simon writes the "Hitting The Cutoff Man" blog on SportsFanLive.com. Follow him on Twitter at HitTheCutoff.