03/31/2008 10:07 PM ET
Pageantry runs rampant on Opening Day
Despite a few rainouts, clubs get creative to ring in new season
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Ernie Banks poses in front of his statue outside Wrigley, modeled after his at-bat against Hall of Famer Warren Spahn on Aug. 29, 1959. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Spectacle and celebration, happiness and somber remembrance, fireworks, festivity, old faces, new names and sold-out crowds could be found throughout the Major Leagues.
Opening Day 2008 had a little bit of everything, from coast to coast, with each of the 13 ballparks participating in the pageantry in their own creative and memorable ways. Sure, the last Opening Day in Yankee Stadium was postponed by rain, but it was just a dramatic pause until Tuesday (we hope).
Here's a rundown of the Opening Day pregame happenings from park to park:
Dodgers vs. Giants, Dodger Stadium
The pageantry of two teams -- and archrivals -- celebrating 50-year anniversaries of their moves to California got started with the Dodgers' honoring their great gloves and bats.
Wes Parker was presented with his Rawlings All-Time Gold Glove, won through fan balloting, and Andruw Jones collected his 10th consecutive regular-season Gold Glove. Meanwhile, catcher Russell Martin was awarded his first. Silver Sluggers went to Jeff Kent and Martin, who joined Gary Carter and Benito Santiago as the only catchers to win Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers in the same year.
The Vandenberg Air Force Base Color Guard presented the colors as a flag big enough to cover the entire outfield was unfurled, setting up a dramatic national anthem from jazz saxophone player extraordinaire Dave Koz that managed to rise above the noise of the flyover by the B-1 bomber from Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene, Texas.
In honor of the Dodgers' 50th year in L.A., a host of former team greats came out to celebrate, including Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Tommy Davis, Sweet Lou Johnson, Maury Wills, Steve Sax, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Steve Yeager, Bill Russell, Eric Karros, Rick Monday, Steve Finley, Fernando Valenzuela, Tommy Lasorda, and, in a rare appearance, Sandy Koufax.
Koufax, Erskine and Newcombe all delivered first pitches -- Koufax to Lasorda -- as legendary broadcaster Vin Scully announced the proceedings.
Cubs vs. Brewers, Wrigley Field
Opening Day in the Windy City to kick-start the 100th year since the Cubs' last World Series championship was fittingly all about "Mr. Cub," a.k.a. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. Banks witnessed the unveiling of a statue of his very own likeness at Clark and Addison Streets, along with Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Billy Williams.
"I'm really thrilled to be here," Aaron said. "Ernie has always been part of everything my wife and I have done. He's always supported me. Ernie came up [to the Major Leagues] just about one year before me, and I used to listen to Ernie."
Banks managed to conjure the spirit of Yogi Berra in the one-liner department, looking up at the statue and cracking, " Long after I'm not here, I'll still be here." And even though the Cubs didn't live up to Banks' other famous line, "Let's play two," they played No. 1 of 162, with Mr. Cub throwing out the first pitch.
Reds vs. Diamondbacks, Great American Ball Park
Opening Day's celebratory tone of hope and renewal was tempered this year by an aura of sadness and loss at the Reds' home park as the club honored four members of its organization who passed away this offseason, most notably beloved broadcaster and pitcher Joe Nuxhall. The standing-room-only crowd stood amid a steady light rain for a moment of silence in honor of those lives lost.
The most stirring tribute came during player introductions when Reds players and coaches jogged on to the field with Nuxhall's name and uniform No. 41 on the backs of their white home jerseys.
Also honored Monday were late Reds general manager Bob Howsam, considered to be the architect of the "Big Red Machine" clubs of the 1970s, Bob Purkey, a pitcher for the Reds from 1958-1964, and Sheldon "Chief" Bender, who spent 39 years in the Reds scouting and player development department.
Nuxhall was remembered Monday by many members of the Reds organization.
"I got a chance to say goodbye [at the funeral]," said Ken Griffey Jr. "It's tough. It's not normal to not have him here. I can still hear his voice, encouraging me. It hit me in Spring Training that I wasn't going to see him."
The Reds unfurled a Nuxhall jersey hanging above the visitors' bullpen, which will remain for the duration of the 2008 season. The Reds also announced that Great American Ball Park's address at Main Street will officially be changed this summer to 100 Nuxhall Way.
Team Lachey, winners of the NBC reality show "Clash of Choirs," sang "Amazing Grace" in tribute to Nuxhall, Howsam, Purkey and Bender.
The Reds also recognized area resident Sgt. Keith (Matt) Maupin, who'd been missing for nearly four years after his convoy came under attack by Iraqi insurgents. The Army announced Sunday that Maupin's remains had been found. Maupin's family was in attendance at Monday's game.
Mariners vs. Rangers, Safeco Field
The 2008 season got off to a rousing start in the chilly Pacific Northwest with pre-game music from the Henry M. Jackson High School band from nearby Mill Creek, the ceremonial First Run Around the Bases by 10-year-old Ben Comer of Renton, the National Anthem by Marcus Shelton of the Seattle Opera, and award presentations: a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger for outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, a Gold Glove for third baseman Adrian Beltre, the Rolaids Relief Award for closer J.J. Putz and MLB Equipment Manager of the Year for Ted Walsh.
The day, however, belonged to Dave.
Dave Niehaus, the Mariners' play-by-play man, was announced as 2008 Ford C. Frick Award recipient, good for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame, to a booming sellout crowd. After a video tribute, he rode into the park in a Dodge Viper as the JumboTron in center field focused on the bunting in right center that reads "Countdown to Cooperstown: 118 Days," and features his picture.
Niehaus, decked out in a tuxedo, strode a red carpet to the mound and fired a pitch to catcher Jamie Burke to get the season going.
Marlins vs. Mets, Dolphin Stadium
Music, pageantry, an impressive F-16 flyover and the return of a popular former player were part of the Marlins' pregame festivities at Dolphin Stadium.
A highlight of the opening ceremonies was a tribute to Jeff Conine, who signed a one-day contract with the Marlins last Friday and promptly retired. Conine, 41, an original Marlin and member of the organization's two World Series title teams, is hanging up his spikes after 17 Major League seasons. A tribute of memorable Conine moments was played on the video scoreboard.
"Even though I wore five different uniforms, I always considered myself a Florida Marlin," said Conine, who was presented with his No. 19 jersey framed.
Conine also threw out the ceremonial first pitch, tossing the ball to Marlins first base/infield coach Andy Fox, a teammate of Conine on the 2003 World Series title team.
The national anthem was sung by the cast of the Tony Award winning musical, "Forbidden Broadway."
Twins vs. Angels, Metrodome
There might have been snow outside, but the Metrodome was warm and cozy for their beloved former star, Torii Hunter.
Hunter, the charismatic, Gold Glove-winning center fielder who spent the first decade-plus of his professional career in Minnesota, departed via free agency for the Angels over the winter and returned on the first day of the season with his new club.
Hunter hugged over 100 people before the game, and during introductions he was given a sustained standing ovation. He stepped up from the first-base line to lift his cap and tap his chest, stepped back in line, acknowledged another surge in the ovation, came back out and doffed the cap again as teammates applauded along with the hometown crowd.
Orioles vs. Rays, Camden Yards
The Orioles welcomed a capacity crowd to their refurbished home, showing off the stadium's new scoreboards and beginning the day with a video tribute, setting the tone for the afternoon and for the season.
Finally, Jim Hunter announced Baltimore's starting lineup, and the largest ovations were reserved for leadoff man Brian Roberts -- who spent his winter dealing with trade rumors -- and center fielder Adam Jones.
Once all the introductions were over, the Orioles brought out some special guests. Hank Peters, the general manager of Baltimore's last World Series team, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. And Rick Dempsey, former Baltimore catcher and the Most Valuable Player of the 1983 World Series, caught the ball a few feet in front of home plate.
The Orioles also brought out an honor guard from all five branches of the military and draped a huge American flag over the batter's eye in center field. Baltimore officials asked for a moment of silence right before the national anthem, and American tenor Richard Troxell delivered his version of the national anthem for the sixth straight season.
Indians vs. White Sox, Progressive Field
Opening Day at the newly named Progressive Field saw the Indians team up with their new naming rights partner on a couple fronts. Two hundred Progressive employees unfurled a 350-foot-by-150 foot American flag in the outfield grass, and Andre Hampton, a National Guard Corporal and Progressive employee, appeared via satellite from his base in Kuwait as his mother, Kim Shockley-Hampton, tossed out the ceremonial first pitch.
The national anthem was handled by Ashley Nemeh, a Cleveland native and sophomore at Case Western Reserve who has released two albums and one single. The Indians also showed a video recapping their memorable 2007 season and unveiled their 2007 AL Central Champions pennant.
Tigers vs. Royals, Comerica Park
After a flyover of F-16s from Michigan Air National Guard's 107th Fighter Squadron, Miss America took over.
Kirsten Haglund, the reigning Miss America who hails from nearby Farmington Hills, Mich., was a triple threat, performing the national anthem and "God Bless America" and thowing out the first pitch.
Also, fans were treated to a recording of "Voice of the Turtle," the King James verse that legendary Detroit broadcaster Ernie Harwell used to recite at the start of every Spring Training:
"For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."
Phillies vs. Nationals, Citizens Bank Park
Even with the steady light rain that fell before the game, it didn't diminish the excitement generated by the Fralinger String Band, the six-time first-place winners of the city's New Year's Day Mummers Parade. The fans in the ballpark waved their 2007 NL East champions pennant, courtesy of Modell's Sporting Goods.
Mayor Michael Nutter received a rousing ovation after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and public address announcer Dan Baker donned a tuxedo for his 37th Opening Day with the Phillies.
Braves vs. Pirates, Turner Field
Recently retired former Braves catcher Javy Lopez experienced an emotional moment with the fans of Turner Field when he threw the ceremonial first pitch -- a well-received strike -- to his longtime battery mate, pitcher John Smoltz.
Before Lopez delivered the first pitch, many of the Braves received heartfelt welcomes from the Turner Field crowd. Chipper Jones, Smoltz and manager Bobby Cox received their expected rousing ovations.
But the loudest cheer was reserved for Tom Glavine, who was preparing to make his first start as a Brave in six years. The 300-game-winner previously pitched in Atlanta from 1987-2002.
Recording artist Diana DeGarmo, who gained fame in 2004 on "American Idol," sang the national anthem.
Padres vs. Astros, PETCO Park
Before Monday's game against the Astros, the Padres held an on-field ceremony to honor the collaborative relief efforts by local firefighters during last October's wildfires. There was a video tribute and the unfurling of the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl Giant Flag by approximately 300 firefighters from the 63 fire stations in San Diego County.
The flag, one of the largest versions of "Old Glory" in existence, will be displayed upon first notes of the national anthem, which was sung by Escondido Fire Department Captain Eric Souza.
Following the anthem, there was a helicopter fly-over by two Navy choppers that assisted in the fire relief, as well as San Diego Fire & Rescue's Copter One.
Cardinals vs. Rockies, Busch Stadium
Before the game was postponed, the events kicked off with the Clydesdales, and Lou Brock riding on the Budweiser beer wagon with the Clydesdale drivers. Then, remaining Cards Hall of Famers -- Gibson, Ozzie Smith and Red Schoendienst -- began the traditional motorcade by riding around the track in Ford Mustang convertibles. Stan Musial was present but didn't participate in the motorcade, which continued with the coaching staff and the current team, again in Mustang convertibles.
The Mini Mizzou marching band played the national anthem, and two Missouri football players (quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin) did the first pitch -- with Daniel throwing a football to Maclin.
Marty Hendin, a former team vice president who passed away over the winter, was acknowledged with a moment of silence.
Doug Miller is a senior writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. MLB.com reporters Jim Molony, Tom Singer, Joe Frisaro, Anthony Castrovince, Spencer Fordin, Jeff Wallner and Andy Jasner contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.