Bryn Smith said he “literally became numb.”
“The toughest pitch of the whole game was the first one,” said the man who threw the first major league pitch in Colorado baseball history on Friday, April 9, 1993. It was a ball…but things went pretty well after that for the veteran righthander who’d been signed as a free agent with the specific task of taking the mound in an atmosphere never seen before…or since…in Major League Baseball.
“When they said, ‘play ball’ everyone stood up and the sound just went completely crazy,” Smith remembered. “It felt like a sound wave. The stadium felt like it was moving…like you were in a boat on the ocean. I remember nodding my head yes, but I couldn’t throw it. I froze for a short moment. The ball ended up outside, and it was definitely meant to be away. No way was I going to throw it down the middle and have it get launched.”
A scoreless first inning and things got better quickly.
“Once you settle into a game frame of mind and you start to block things out, you do kind of come into a calm,” noted Smith, who definitely settled in after that.
“Basically I just went about my routine. A couple of base hits there in the first inning, but got another ground ball to get out of it. Once EY hit the home run and the place lit up like crazy, I started to settle in a little bit. My main focus was just to get outs, keep the ball on the ground and let our defense do their work.”
Kent Bottenfield, the Montreal Expos starter that day, said that it was so loud at the northwest (enclosed) corner of the old Mile High Stadium that when Expos Manager Felipe Alou came to the mound to give him a pep talk, the pitcher couldn’t hear him. “I knew he was mad and was chewing me out, but I just couldn’t hear what he was saying.” Bottenfield would get traded to the Rockies later that same season.
Smith ended up throwing seven scoreless innings that afternoon against his former team in a game the expansion Colorado Rockies won 11-4. Most remember the game for Eric Young’s historic lead off home run, but it was Smith’s effort that really propelled Don Baylor’s team to the first win in franchise history.
“It was a very exciting day for everybody,” Smith said in what might be the biggest understatement in the past three decades.
We’re coming up on 30 years since that memorable day when more than 80,000 people squeezed into old stadium – temporary bleachers had been added in right center field to accommodate the extra masses – to witness the very first Rockies home game. Smith, who had minor knee surgery at the start of spring training but recovered in time to make the start, was the only guy in the ballpark who had pitched on that mound in the mile high elements and in front of a throng of baseball fans.
“I’d had good success there in the 1980 season, so I was comfortable pitching there,” Smith added. “The elements for me didn’t really bother me that much. Me being a sinkerball pitcher, my forte was to keep the ball on the ground and I was able to do that.
“For me, that’s probably the biggest game I ever pitched in. To see how much that meant to so many people was a great honor.”
Smith followed a unique path to Mile High that day. Drafted by St. Louis in 1973, he was traded as a minor leaguer to the Montreal organization in 1978. He spent the 1981 season pitching for the Triple A Denver Bears and playing for manager Alou, going 15-5 (he led the American Association) and posting a nifty 3.05 ERA. At the end of the year, he was named to the AA All-Star team. The Bears won the American Association championship to boot.
One of those starts came on the annual fireworks night in early July. More than 50,000 Colorado baseball fans showed up for that…something Smith recalled when he arrived at the stadium for that historic home opener. It was something the Rockies brass remembered when they signed him as a free agent.
April 9, 1993 became sort of a full-circle kind of day for Smith, who had spent those nine years with the Expos organization where he was teammates with Hall of Famers – and former Denver Bears – like Andre Dawson and Tim Raines. He also suited up with (former Bears) like Terry Francona, Brad Mills and Tim Wallach, just to name a few.
“It’s kind of a cool story in that,” Smith smiled. “Me playing for the Denver Bears, playing for the Montreal Expos, I’m now at the tail end of my career back in Denver in Mile High Stadium pitching against (Alou and) the Montreal Expos.”
That stellar Expos organization also included front office executives like Bob Gebhard and Pat Daugherty, who would move to Colorado to take on the task of building the new expansion franchise from the ground up. As soon as they got here, they knew they wanted the veteran righthander who was as close as they were going to get to having someone who had “been there, done that.”
In reality, no one had. Or has since. Nevertheless, Smith gave Gebhard and Manager Don Baylor everything they could have asked for and more that day while etching his name in Colorado sports history forever.