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03/31/11 11:27 PM ET
Game on: Opening Day begins in grand style
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
This epic journey began with a single strike: The Nationals' Livan Hernandez delivered it to the Braves' Martin Prado at 1:11 p.m. ET on Thursday. A few ticks later, the Yankees' CC Sabathia wound up against the Tigers' Austin Jackson in the Bronx, and it was on. A little less than 10 hours after Hernandez began the 2011 season, the Dodgers completed Opening Day by reminding the defending champions that 2010 is in the past. On a cool but cooperative day, March ended and the summer march to October began amid pomp and emotional pause across the country in celebration of the national pastime's return. Yankee Stadium and Busch Stadium both stood in silent tribute to the tragedy-stricken people of Japan. Cardinals fans also stood in silent vigil for former Cardinals great Marty Marion, former St. Louis hitting coach Mitchell Page and Andrew N. Baur, who was part of the Cardinals' ownership group. Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park stood in silent remembrance of Sparky Anderson, who passed away in November.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" and first pitches were delivered, jets roared overhead and the breezes seemed to whisper, "We are all gathered here ..."The union between the nation's fans and their pastime included the ingredients of any traditional marriage ceremony. Something old: Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez, participating in his 20th Opening Day. Something new: Twenty-three-year-old Clayton Kershaw, striking out the side in the first inning of his first Opening Day start in the day's final game, against the World Series champion Giants. Something borrowed: Mark Trumbo, starting at first base for the Angels while Kendrys Morales continues his recovery from a broken left leg. Something blue: Edinson Volquez, down, 3-0, to the Brewers before being able to get the first out in Cincinnati. The Yankees' 111th opener featured the franchise's most recent 20-game winners: Shortly before Sabathia began making his serious pitches, Mike Mussina made the ceremonial one. "To be asked to come out here and do this, the first day of the season, that's really cool," said Mussina, who retired after winning 20 games in 2008 for the only time in his 18-season career. "To have them think of me as part of this organization still, and part of the family of the New York Yankees, it's really something special. I think it's great," added Mussina, the recipient of the Pride of the Yankees Award at the team's Welcome Home Dinner on Wednesday night. Before Mussina, Hilary Swindal delivered: The granddaughter of the late George Steinbrenner sang the national anthem. There is a reason the Yankees' American League is called the Junior Circuit: The Reds inaugurated their 135th season on a typically festive day in Cincinnati, which began with the traditional Findlay Market Parade through downtown, the 92nd renewal grand marshaled by Joe Morgan. Reds fans' biggest pregame cheers were reserved for first baseman Joey Votto when he hoisted the 2010 National League MVP Award he formally received from general manager Walt Jocketty. Brian McKnight, the R&B singer, was joined by sons Niko and Brian Jr. in the singing of the national anthem, punctuated by the flyover of two F-18 Hornet jets from Virginia Beach's Strike Fighter Squadron 131. Then, retired Cincinnati police chief Tom Streicher threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Missouri rolled out the red carpet for the architects of its baseball history. In both Kansas City and St. Louis, first-pitch honors went to recently retired dignitaries -- former Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds, who was joined in the ceremony by son Landon in lobbing pitches to Albert Pujols, and former Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney. St. Louis manager Tony La Russa applauded the choice of Edmonds, whose moment in the spotlight capped an extended celebration of Cardinals greats. "That's a nice touch," La Russa said. "I think that's really nice. He's a big part of the history here over the last bunch of years." Sweeney's toss went to George Brett, part of a homecoming scrum of 20 former Royals that also included Frank White, John Mayberry and Bo Jackson. A pregame motorcade around the warning track at Busch Stadium included Stan Musial riding in a golf cart, preceded by Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendiest, Lou Brock, Whitey Herzog and Bob Gibson in trucks. Nikko Smith, son of Ozzie and a former "American Idol" contestant, sang the anthem, which was punctuated by a C-130 flyover. In the day's final game, Chavez Ravine hosted the Dodgers facing their rival, the 2010 World Series champion Giants. Prior to the game, Los Angeles announced the dedication of a uniform patch the club will wear in tribute to Hall of Fame outfielder Duke Snider, who recently died. Thursday also marked the 30th anniversary of Fernando Valenzuela's Opening day sub start and shutout win. Valenzuela, along with Tom Lasorda and former teammate Jerry Reuss (whose injury created the start for Valenzuela), threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." was followed by Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully presenting his trademark green light for the game to begin: "It's time for Dodger baseball." Opening Week picks up steam on Friday, when the 18 other teams swing into action in an 11-game schedule that involves only four returning to the park: The Angels-Royals and Giants-Dodgers engage in the second game of their respective series. Otherwise, Friday afternoon's openers will be in Philadelphia (versus the Astros), Chicago (Cubs vs. Pirates), Cleveland (White Sox), Texas (Boston) and Colorado (D-backs). The inaugural action will continue on Friday night in Toronto (Twins), Tampa Bay (Orioles), Miami (Mets) and Oakland (Mariners), in addition to the aforementioned Game 2s.