April 4 is Opening Day for the Chicago Cubs as they get set to take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It’s also the 22nd anniversary of one of the most memorable Opening Days in Cubs history.
If it weren’t for what happened on April 4, 1994 at Wrigley Field, even the most diehard of baseball fans might not recognize the name Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes. After batting .219 with just two home runs over parts of four seasons with the Houston Astros, Rhodes came to the Cubs in a 1993 trade and got into 15 late-season games that year, hitting three home runs and batting .288.
But nothing could have prepared Cubs fans for what they would witness on Opening Day the next year, when the Cubs played the New York Mets. Rhodes batted leadoff, facing the legendary Dwight Gooden. He launched a home run in his first at-bat. Then he did it again in the third. Then, amazingly, he came up in the fifth inning and hit his third home run of the day.
Watch all three home runs here:
The Mets pulled Gooden right before he was to face Rhodes again in the sixth. Rhodes walked in his next plate appearance and then “only” singled in his final at-bat in the ninth.
It was the ultimate MLB one-hit wonder story. Rhodes only hit five more home runs the rest of his career and was out of the major leagues within two years, though he went to Japan and became a star player there. In 2006, Rhodes tried to return to the majors with the Cincinnati Reds but was released before the season started.
This game holds a particularly special place in my memory: It is the day that I became a Cubs fan. I was nine years old, living in Michigan, and found the game on WGN while flipping through the channels. Even though the Cubs actually lost that game, it was Rhodes’ heroics that inspired me to keep turning on WGN and watching games, that season and beyond.
Since then, I’ve seen legends come and go: Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood, Greg Maddux, and many others. All of them inspired my Cubs fandom in some way. But it was this little-known outfielder who made perhaps the biggest impact of all. I think about that game every year when the season is about to start. Now in my 23rd year as a fan, I still look back to that day as the beginning of a great story.