03/31/08 2:25 AM ET
Opening Day arrives with 14 games
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins
I love Opening Day. I think we all do, whether it's the players, coaches or front office. It's just a special day in our American culture. It's weaved into the fabric of what we are, and I think it's a great day.
Padres manager Bud Black
Every Opening Day, I have this tradition. I pray -- hard. One prayer for each loss in the previous season. It usually takes all day. But I think it's working.
Royals fan "Troy" in Liberty, Mo.
Opening Day is here, first with a pair of Boston-Oakland games in Japan, then with Ryan Zimmerman's unbelievable walk-off homer to beat Atlanta in the first regular-season game at Nationals Park in Washington, and now with 14 Major League Baseball games today, including the last opener at Yankee Stadium.
There will be pageantry and patriotism galore, bunting on the walls, personal and municipal traditions to follow, and companies everywhere fielding calls from employees who can't make it to work because of the dreaded Opening Day Sickness.
(Memo to employers: Just go with it. No offense, but this is more important.)
Got your MLB.TV subscription ready? Want to see them all on MLB.TV Premium with that exclusive MLB.com NexDef plugin for 1.2MB clarity viewing? Every one of these games is available to out-of-market MLB.TV subscribers, and here's a closer look at all the pageantry and on-field excitement coming today:
Royals at Tigers, 1:05 p.m. ET
Kansas City sends Gil Meche to the hill against Justin Verlander. Conventional wisdom says the Tigers have the better odds of going farther in 2008 than the building Royals. But this is the era when conventional wisdom means absolutely nothing. Let the games begin and the colossal surprises begin.
The Tigers have tabbed Miss America, Detroit area native Kirsten Haglund, to sing the national anthem as well as throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"The Opening Day of the baseball season is always special in Detroit. However, the opportunity to have the reigning Miss America 2008 involved makes it even more special," Tigers president and general manager David Dombrowski said.
Blue Jays at Yankees, 1:05 p.m. ET
Here we go -- one more Opening Day at The House That Ruth Built before the new Yankee Stadium opens for the 2009 season. The first Opening Day in this ballpark was in 1923, in front of a capacity crowd. You don't even have to say "full house" there today, because it's hard to imagine a home game there that's not sold out. The club already has sold nearly 4 million tickets for 2008 . . . amazing.
Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson will throw out the first pitch in a season that marks the 30th anniversary of the Yankees' 1978 repeat championship. Public address announcer Bob Sheppard will not attend the game as he continues to recuperate from illness. His longtime backup, Jim Hall, will serve in his place.
Pregame ceremonies begin at approximately 12:40 p.m., and the Yankees have asked fans to arrive early. In addition to the presentation of colors by the West Point Cadet Color Guard, a giant American flag will be unfurled in the outfield by 40 West Point cadets. The national anthem will then be sung by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point Cadet Glee Club. At the conclusion of the anthem, two U.S. Navy F-18 Hornets piloted by the Strike Fighter Squadron 106 (the Gladiators) will fly over the stadium.
D-backs at Reds, 2:10 p.m. ET
Cincinnati is Opening Day. There is no bigger tradition in baseball -- except perhaps the use of the baseball itself -- than a season starting with a home game there. Hamilton County commissioner Todd Portune will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jazz vocalist and area resident Kathy Wade will sing the national anthem, with a flyover by four F-18 jets from the Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224.
There will be tributes paid to Joe Nuxhall, Bob Howsam and Sheldon "Chief" Bender, legends who all passed away since last season ended. Team Cincinnati, which was the winner of NBC's "Clash of the Choirs," will sing before the game and perform "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.
The 89th Findlay Market Parade, an Opening Day staple, will have former Reds outfielder Cesar Geronimo serving as grand marshal. Geronimo is one of the 2008 Reds Hall of Fame inductees.
"It's a big deal in Cincinnati," Reds Opening Day starter Aaron Harang said. "We don't get to see all the parade stuff that goes on because we're kind of behind the scenes. But you can definitely tell the atmosphere around the ballpark."
Brandon Webb will be starting for the D-backs, who set out to defend their NL West title and start with many young players who came up during the course of last season. And for the Reds, it will mark the start of the Dusty Baker era as their manager.
Brewers at Cubs, 2:20 p.m. ET
We pick up right where we left off at the end of last season, when the Cubs survived that grueling and thrilling battle with Milwaukee to win the NL Central. That's the main thing here. It's Ben Sheets vs. Carlos Zambrano. It's Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks vs. Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. These are the two clubs to beat in this division, and fittingly they come out head-to-head -- the first time they have met on Opening Day. Let's hope the weather cooperates; it's the Cubs' first Opening Day at home since 2001 (a loss to Montreal).
Opening Day will be especially glorious at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field because of one legendary figure who once played so many of these openers at this very ballpark: Ernie Banks. Mr. Cub. A statue of the Hall of Famer, who turned 77 in January, will be unveiled at Clark and Addison streets, near the main Wrigley Field marquee, and Hank Aaron and Bill Cosby are among the invited guests. Banks, who played for the Cubs from 1953-71 and is known for his enthusiastic, "Let's Play Two" attitude, will throw out the first pitch and lead the crowd in the seventh inning stretch. It has been named Ernie Banks Day in Chicago.
The Cubs are 73-57-2 in season openers since 1876, and 29-20-2 when they begin the season at home. The 73 wins are the most Opening Day wins by a Major League franchise (the Giants are second with 69). This will be the earliest home opener by the Cubs in Chicago -- but not the earliest Opening Day for them. On March 29, 2000, they kicked off the campaign against the Mets in Tokyo and won, 5-3. This also will be the coming-out party for new outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.
White Sox at Indians, 3:05 p.m. ET
Cleveland begins defense of its American League Central title, with reigning AL Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia on the mound against Mark Buehrle in a super-lefty matchup. Like the Cubs, this also will be a brave battle against the elements, scheduling a frosty outpost to start the season at home for the first time in a long while. For Cleveland, it's the first time it has happened since 2001.
The forecast calls for showers throughout the day at Progressive Field. Told of the forecast, Indians third baseman Casey Blake said, "That's awesome." Memories of the 2007 home opener are still fresh in everyone's mind. Not only did a snowstorm postpone the game against Seattle, it wiped out the Indians' first homestand entirely and forced the team to move a three-game series to Milwaukee.
It is the 15th consecutive home-opener sellout since the ballpark opened in 1994. The tradition includes the unfurling of a giant flag (350 by 150 feet), balloons, special video presentations and starting lineups. The giant flag will be unfurled and presented by 200 Progressive employees who have been selected as winners in a "Why should I be chosen to hold the flag during the national anthem on Opening Day?" contest held by that company. Participants entered by submitting, videos, essays and photos.
A special tribute highlights the ceremonial first pitch as Andre Hampton, a National Guard Corporal and Progressive employee, will be live via satellite from his base in Kuwait. Andre has chosen his mother, Kim Shockley, to represent him in tossing the ceremonial first pitch, and his wife and two sons will be present as well. Hampton is on his second tour of duty overseas.
The national anthem will be performed by Ashley Nemeh, who sang before Game 3 of the 2007 AL Championship Series.
Rays at Orioles, 3:05 p.m. ET
To allow fans the opportunity to experience the excitement of Opening Day, Oriole Park at Camden Yards will open at noon. Each fan will receive a 2008 Orioles magnet schedule at the gates, and roving musical groups will entertain fans on Eutaw Street and the main concourses. Pregame ceremonies start at 2:30, and the new ballpark entertainment system will be unveiled as part of the festivities.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Orioles' 1983 World Series championship, former GM Hank Peters will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Rick Dempsey, the MVP of that Fall Classic. Peters will be escorted to the pitcher's mound by current Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail.
For the sixth consecutive year, the national anthem will be sung by American tenor Richard Troxell. During the anthem, a 30-by-42-foot American flag from Fort McHenry will be unfurled over the batter's eye wall in center field. The flag is a replica of the one that flew over Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem.
Color guards from all five branches of the United States military -- Army (Baltimore Recruiting Battalion), Marine Corps (4th Combat Engineer Battalion), Navy (Ceremonial Guard), Air Force (Bolling AFB) and Coast Guard (Ceremonial Honor Guard) -- will present colors before the game. The anthem will culminate with a flyover by four A-10 U.S. Air Force jets.
Nationals at Phillies, 3:05 p.m. ET
Now that the Nationals have opened their new park, they end that one-game homestand and go to Citizens Bank Park, still a relatively new joint itself. Spring showers are in the forecast but probably won't put a damper on what's planned in Philly.
Brett Myers goes for the Phillies against Matt Chico, and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel summed up everyone's sentiment: "I'm ready to start the season. We're ready to go. If [the players] say they're ready, let's see."
It all starts at noon with an Opening Day Block Party on Citizens Bank Way, featuring food and music by Mr. Greengenes, the band that rocked the pep rally at City Hall after the Phillies clinched the NL East. Musical entertainment at the game will include the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Men's Chorale singing "America the Beautiful" and 6-year-old trumpet prodigy Geoffrey Gallante playing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. The national anthem will be performed by Patti LaBelle's Boom Boom Choir. Completing the patriotic mood, members of the Pennsylvania Army and Air National Guards will unfurl the American Flag and the first ball will be brought to the field by the U.S. Army Golden Knights.
Remember that incredible scene of Phillies fans waving the white rally towels during the playoffs last year? All fans will be waving their 2007 NL East Champions pennant.
Mets at Marlins, 4:10 p.m. ET
Johan Santana makes his first appearance for the Mets in a real game since being traded by the Twins during the offseason in a blockbuster deal. And it comes against a Florida team that, although missing some key parts, was the culprit that played spoiler on the final weekend of the 2007 regular season to keep the Mets out of the postseason.
With the Mets on hand, perhaps it is fitting that there will be a touch of Broadway involved in Marlins' Opening Day pregame festivities at Dolphin Stadium. The pregame ceremonies include the cast of the Tony Award-winning musical "Forbidden Broadway" performing the national anthem.
"If Opening Day doesn't get you excited, then you are in the wrong sport," Marlins president David Samson said. "It's the height of it to me. It's hard to believe it's our seventh Opening Day [in ownership] in Florida for me. It's a source of pride."
The day will also feature the return of one of Mr. Marlin. Jeff Conine, who signed a one-day contract and retired as a Marlin on Friday, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. An original Marlin, Conine played on both of the franchise's World Series title teams in 1997 and 2003. "It's going to be very weird," Conine said.
There will be a flyover of four F-16 Fighter Jets, and then left-hander Mark Hendrickson will get things started on the mound for Florida against Jose Reyes.
Giants at Dodgers, 4:10 p.m. ET
A new era gets under way for both clubs at Chavez Ravine. The Giants come in to face their rivals without Barry Bonds, a staple of the roster for a decade and a half -- and to date unsigned. Joe Torre manages his first game with the Dodgers since leaving the Yankees. For all the change, though it is still a celebration of tradition and rivalry.
It was a crazy kind of Spring Training for the Dodgers, who said goodbye to Vero Beach and Dodgertown, hello to Beijing for an exhibition series against San Diego, and then played Boston in front of 115,300 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Kind of under the radar was the fact that the Dodgers won only 11 of their 32 exhibitions. What does it mean?
"Nothing," said catcher Russell Martin, who batted .215 in exhibitions. "We're more than ready. There's such a difference in the intensity. You can try to simulate it in a way, but everything's different when it counts. That's when you step it up a notch. Who had the best Spring Training last year? Nobody remembers, because it doesn't matter."
OK, then here we go. It matters now. Brad Penny is starting the opener for the Dodgers, and Barry Zito for the Giants. Aaron Rowand has assured everyone that the Giants will be better than people think. The Dodgers plan to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their 1988 World Series championship team -- and the 50th anniversary of the team playing out West -- in style. Now is when the long march for answers begins. Play ball.
Rockies at Cardinals, 4:15 p.m. ET
This game at Busch Stadium features a contest between the last two NL pennant winners. The Rockies play their first real game since being swept by Boston in the last World Series (the same thing St. Louis experienced in 2004), and before that Colorado was on the hottest finishing run in any Major League season. It will be interesting to see how Matt Holliday and the Rockies get started this season.
For St. Louis, this will mark the 117th home opener -- and one that is sure to be a combination of familiar traditions and new faces.
The pregame events get under way at 3:30 p.m. ET, with the Budweiser Clydesdales making their way around the warning track at the ballpark. Happens every year, just like in the day when Augie Busch was running the franchise. After the Clydesdales comes what is probably the most famous aspect of a St. Louis opener: the motorcade. The club's Hall of Famers will make their return to the ballpark to parade around the track in convertibles, and after the legends, the 2008 team will take its ride in the convertibles -- with the exception of starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, who will be warming up.
"I think it's a good tradeoff," Wainwright said. "I'd rather be down there in the bullpen when the cars are going around the track than be in a car."
The ceremonies will wrap up with two commemorations. The club will pay tribute to late club vice president Marty Hendin, one of the Cardinals' great ambassadors, who passed away in June. And they will say goodbye to outgoing team president Mark Lamping, whose last day in that office is today after his recent resignation.
Rangers at Mariners, 6:40 p.m. ET
Erik Bedard, one of the key acquisitions over the past offseason in a trade from Baltimore, makes his debut on the mound for Seattle against a Texas team that could be improved with such additions as Josh Hamilton in the outfield. Kevin Millwood is the Opening Day starter for the Rangers. They are two teams on the rise, and the question is whether either can rise enough to unseat the Angels as defending American League West champs; now is when we start to find out.
Dave Niehaus, who will be honored with the Ford C. Frick Award during Hall of Fame inductions this summer, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Opening Day activities begin with a countdown at the Home Plate Gate (corner of 1st and Edgar Martinez Drive) at 4:30 p.m. ET, and the pregame program begins an hour and a half later. Other pregame festivities include: musical entertainment by Henry M. Jackson High School band from Mill Creek; Marcus Shelton, a tenor with Seattle Opera, performing the national anthem; presentation of the flag by Whatcom County firefighters color guard; delivery of the first-pitch baseball, which has been on a month-long, 20-stop tour of the Northwest; and the ceremonial first run around the bases by 10-year-old Ben Comer of Renton, Wash.
There also will be a presentation of awards: Rawlings Gold Gloves to Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre; J.J. Putz, 2007 American League Rolaids Relief Man; and Ted Walsh, MLB Equipment Manager of the Year.
Angels at Twins, 7:05 p.m. ET
Everyone at the Metrodome is going to see what Torii Hunter looks like as the opposition. If Spring Training mattered, they will see a guy on a tear. Hunter, 32, hit .339 with five doubles, two triples and three homers with a slugging percentage of .661 in 20 exhibition games.
"I expect Torii to get a rousing ovation, as he should," Twins president Dave St. Peter told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I know I'll be among the group standing and cheering for him, because he deserves it."
Only three starters from the Twins' 2007 team return, and it's a group that makes up the "core" of a talented young lineup -- right fielder Michael Cuddyer, first baseman Justin Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer. Livan Hernandez comes to the AL for the first time, making the Opening Day start for Minnesota against Jered Weaver, who gets the nod due to injuries to the top two Angels starters, John Lackey (torn triceps) and Kelvim Escobar (torn labrum).
"I think there are some guys that have a little chip on their shoulder," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're not expected to do too awful much. I think we've done OK. We've handled ourselves pretty good in this organization. So when we start getting, 'They aren't going to be very good,' well, that kind of irritates all of us a little bit."
Pirates at Braves, 7:10 p.m. ET
The Braves introduced a pretty cool mostly-blue road jersey and cap during that Sunday night opener at Washington, and they bring back a familiar look when Turner Field welcomes back real baseball on this night. Tom Glavine will make his first start for the Braves since 2002. The 300-game winner began his career in Atlanta in 1987, and he has remained one of the organization's most popular figures while spending the past five seasons with the Mets.
"Opening Days are always fun," new Braves center fielder Mark Kotsay said before the road opener at Nationals Park, followed by a flight home in the wee hours. "We're going to get to have two in two days."
Pregame festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. and include recording artist and former American Idol contestant Diana DeGarmo singing the national anthem and a flyover from a group of Navy pilots in F-18 Hornets. Country band Whiskey Falls will perform its song "Load Up the Bases" before the game in the Fan Plaza and then will sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. Country recording artist Eric Church will sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the middle of the seventh.
Astros at Padres, 10:05 p.m. ET
The best pitching matchup of Opening Day might be saved for last: Roy Oswalt of Houston against reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy of San Diego. Both of those guys are going to be on a lot of fantasy rosters, and of course there are plenty of reasons other than fantasy managing to watch this one on MLB.TV or in person.
It marks the fifth consecutive home opener sellout since the Padres moved to PETCO Park in 2004. Pregame ceremonies include 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 Star-Spangled Banner."
The national anthem will be performed by Escondido Fire Department Captain Eric Souza. The anthem will conclude with a helicopter fly-over by two Navy choppers that assisted in the fire relief, as well as San Diego Fire & Rescue's Copter One.
Ceremonial first pitches will be simultaneously delivered by the following officials in a nod to the collaborative relief effort during last October's wildfires. Then comes some real pitching, the kind that sounds like a recipe for a first-night pitcher's duel. There will be one noticeable absence if you look closely: It is the first game for Houston since the retirement of future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.
That's a lot of great baseball, and it could be the first time in recent memory that an entire Opening Day was sold out. These are the first steps into another magical Major League Baseball season, and it's the sound of steel cleats clicking through clubhouse tunnels into dugouts and onto grass and dirt. The national pastime is back, and it is live on MLB.TV for fans all around the world to see on their computers again.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.