Harper’s homers, Newtown salute mark opening day
Josh Hamilton jumped into a cab, headed to Great American Ball Park and got all nostalgic.
The Los Angeles Angels newcomer saw Cincinnati fans packed downtown and remembered making his big league debut in the same spot a while ago.
“People are lined up in the streets, there’s the parade,” he said. “It’s just an awesome feeling. It never gets old — opening day — especially when you’re where you started.”
All across the majors, baseball was in full swing Monday.
Bryce Harper put on quite a show in Washington. The 20-year-old star hit home runs his first two times up and earned a few “M-V-P!” chants during a 2-0 win over Miami.
At Target Field in Minnesota, players and fans bundled up. It was 35 degrees with 17 mph winds as the Twins took on ace Justin Verlander and the AL champion Detroit Tigers.
“It’s whoever whines about it the least, I think, who’ll have the best chance of winning today,” Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said.
The slugger’s remedy for the cold?
“Put hot sauce all over and throw some long sleeves on and some long johns and go out there and run around and enjoy it,” he joked.
The hot chocolate line was 12 to 15 people deep at the ballpark while the beer vendors were generally talking among themselves.
“It’s opening Day. You can’t not come,” said fan Ripley Peterson, dressed in six layers for the chill. “I love baseball, I love the Twins. Opening day is a special thing. Unless it’s like a blizzard I’m going to be here.”
The 2013 season officially opened Sunday night when the Houston Astros beat Texas.
Most every other team was in action Monday. From old rivalries on the coasts — Red Sox-Yankees in New York, Giants-Dodgers in Los Angeles — there was plenty to celebrate with a dozen games.
“The three big holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and opening day,” LA co-owner Stan Kasten said, watching the stands at Dodger Stadium fill up before the game against World Series champion San Francisco.
A few minutes later, a stadium camera swung to Vin Scully’s booth, where he’s starting his 64th season, and the revered broadcaster pronounced: “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson was standing on the mound before the game when manager Don Mattingly came out and signaled for a reliever. In came Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax wearing his No. 32 vintage jersey, and the ol’ left-hander threw out the first ball to former Dodgers ace Orel Hershiser.
There was a lot more to remember and honor, too.
Players, managers, coaches, umpires and everyone else in uniform wore patches in tribute to those killed last December in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
At Yankee Stadium, the names of the 20 children and six educators who died scrolled on the video board in center field during a moment of silence. The honor guard included members of Newtown police and firefighters.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had a patch attached to a lapel on his pinstriped charcoal suit. It has the seal of Newtown, a picture of a black ribbon and 26 little black stars, each representing a victim of that shooting.
“It’s so we don’t forget about the people in Newtown,” Rizzo said, tapping the patch with his hand. “It honors them and keeps them in our thoughts.”
At Citi Field in New York, the Mets honored hundreds of Hurricane Sandy responders and volunteers in a pregame ceremony. A large orange heart with a blue NY logo was placed in center field and storm volunteers wearing white shirts lined up around it in the shape of home plate.
The team donated 1,000 opening day tickets to storm responders and those affected by the destruction.
First responders from several organizations, including the NYPD and FDNY, lined up in uniform behind the infield dirt, facing the stands. They remained there as players from the Mets and San Diego Padres lined up along the baselines for pregame introductions
Singer and actress Emmy Rossum sang the national anthem backed by 50 choir members from the Scholars’ Academy School Chorus from the Rockaways, an area hit hard by Sandy.
Opening day prompted Hamilton to recall his first game in the majors, in Cincinnati in 2007 after he overcame years of drug abuse. The All-Star outfielder who joined the Angels in the offseason returned to Cincinnati for an unusual interleague opener.
“I enjoyed my year here,” he said. “It was the beginning of everything that’s happened so far in my career, so it’s always going to hold a special place in my heart. It’s always fun to come back to the places where you began.”
In Washington, there is an abundance of optimism. Good reason for it, as the Nationals come off a season in which they led the majors with 98 wins.
Stephen Strasburg threw the first pitch against the Marlins at 1:09 p.m. That was 4 minutes later than scheduled, because all the pregame festivities, which included unveiling a red, white and blue sign atop the outfield scoreboard that read “NL East Division Champions” in all caps.
The Nationals also gave out all manner of individual awards from 2012: a Gold Glove for first baseman Adam LaRoche; Silver Sluggers for LaRoche, shortstop Ian Desmond and Strasburg; NL Manager of the Year for Davey Johnson; and an executive of the year plaque for Rizzo.
“Too much ceremony,” the 70-year-old Johnson observed, “but other than that, it’s a fun day.”
The parking lots at Miller Park were packed hours before Milwaukee hosted Colorado. Fans broke out their grills and passed around beers on an unseasonably cold day.
Inside, former All-Star shortstop Walt Weiss prepared for his first game as a major league manager. A year ago, he was coaching his son’s high school team in Colorado; now, he’s running the Rockies.
“I slept all right,” he said. “I slept better than I thought I would. It’s an exciting day for everybody. Everybody that’s here today and involved, it’s a big day. It should feel a little different.”
And, after seven weeks of a spring training that sometimes seemed as if it lasted forever, it was also time to resume those big league routines.
The visitor’s clubhouse at Nationals Park was well-stocked for a full season of passing the time, with brand new, still shrink-wrapped games of cribbage, dominoes and chess-checkers on a shelf in a vacant locker.
Mike Dunn and Jon Rauch of the Miami Marlins bypassed the collection and instead settled around the table to play the card game Palace.
“Cards and cribbage,” Dunn said. “Cribbage has been big the last couple of years.”
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