Ranking the 5 best Opening Day performances in Blue Jays history
2. Doug Ault, 1977
Toronto Blue Jays baseball began on a snowy Thursday afternoon in April 1977. More than 44,000 fans filed into Exhibition Stadium, a converted football stadium with the centre-field bleacher seats more than 600 feet away from home plate. Among the dignitaries in attendance to see the expansion Blue Jays play the Chicago White Sox was Commissioner Bowie Kuhn; Anne Murray sang the National Anthem. The first pitch took place at 1:48 p.m. with temperatures approaching freezing. It didn’t take long for the Blue Jays to find their first folk hero.
The Blue Jays had come into existence the previous March when the American League voted to award an expansion franchise to a consortium led by Labatt Breweries for $7 million. The inaugural club wasn’t very good; they would lose more than 100 games each of their first three seasons. By the time they came to bat for the first time on Opening Day 1977, they were already trailing the White Sox 2-0. That’s when Doug Ault etched his name into franchise lore.
After the first two batters struck out, Ault, a right-handed first baseman with just nine games of big-league experience, hit a 1-1 slider from White Sox starter Ken Brett to left-centre for the first home run in Blue Jays history. In the third, with the Blue Jays trailing 4-2, Hector Torres reached with a lead-off single, and Ault came to the plate again. On a 2-1 slider from Brett, he hit the ball over the head of right-fielder Richie Zisk that just cleared the 330-sign in the corner for his second home run of the game.
“I hope nobody pinches me and wakes me up,” Ault said after the game, according to Larry Millson of the Globe and Mail. “After I hit those first two out, I couldn’t believe it was that easy.”
The Blue Jays won the game 9-5 to go 1-0 in franchise history. Ault finished 3-4 with four RBI. He played in Toronto until 1980, finishing his career with 17 home runs in 713 at-bats; Opening Day 1977 was his only multi-HR game.
His subsequent life, however, was one of tragedy. He tried his hand at coaching in the Blue Jays minor league system before working on an oil rig and as a used car salesman. In June 2004, his wife died, sending him into a deep depression. On December 22, 2004, he walked to his car in the driveway of his Florida home and took his own life. He was 54 years old.