The loudest ovation at Busch Stadium on Opening Day for a non-Cardinal player or any number of their Hall-of-Fame players in attendance?
That was easy — Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick.
While visiting players aren’t showered with boos in St. Louis — this is about as classy and knowledgeable fan base as you’ll find in baseball, let alone all professional sports — they usually don’t waste much energy during visiting team introductions.
They did Wednesday, though.
Ludwick was greeted with a warm reception from the sold-out crowd on Opening Day, which no doubt brought some chills to a guy who spent parts of four seasons with the Cardinals.
“I’ve been to a lot of different cities for Opening Day but it’s definitely special here,” Ludwick said before the game.
“This is a baseball town and this [Opening Day] is like this town’s Super Bowl.”
— Corey Brock
Derek Lowe picked up where he left off in October and Jason Heyward opened Fredi Gonzalez’s managerial reign in Atlanta with yet another Opening Day home run.
Heyward’s second-inning leadoff homer off Livan Hernandez produced some cushion as Lowe proved strong into the sixth inning and helped the Braves open the season with a 2-0 win over the Nationals at a cold Nationals Park.
Technically, reliever Brayan Villarreal was the only Tiger getting his first day in the big leagues on Thursday. But the look on new bullpen catcher Andy Bouchie suggests differently. He’s a long way from independent ball in Long Beach, California.
“It wasn’t the way I thought I’d get here,” he said, “but I’ll take it.”
The Tigers haven’t needed a second bullpen catcher for years. When they decided not to go with a dedicated backup catcher after Alex Avila and Victor Martinez, however, they needed one for when two relievers need to warm up at the same time. They didn’t want to make bullpen coach Jeff Jones do it with his surgically repaired knees, and they can’t always count on Don Kelly being in the dugout in the late innings, since he might be in the game.
By chance, primary bullpen catcher Scott Pickens was around a minor league game on the back fields at Tigertown this spring. Bouchie was around and just asked for conversation how somebody gets a job like his.
Two days later, the Tigers came to him with an idea. He had to give up his playing career, but he’d get to the big leagues. He didn’t ponder it long.
“I did everything I could as a baseball player,” said Bouchie, who split last year between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. “It wasn’t for lack of hard work. I have no regrets. I had fun.”
Frigid weather notwithstanding, the Angels are geared up for their season opener against the Royals.
“Every Opening Day is a new experience,” clubhouse leader Torii Hunter said. “We have a great blend here of young guys who can’t wait to get started with their careers and older guys like Vernon [Wells], Bobby [Abreu] and myself who can teach them some things and show them the way. I really like our team. I think we’re ready for a big year.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia echoed Hunter’s sentiments, adding that he’ll feel even better when Kendrys Morales returns from his foot ailment to fortify the heart of the lineup.
“We’re definitely excited, ready to get after it,” Scioscia said from the visitors’ dugout about 2 1/2 hours before game time at Kauffman Stadium. “We feel good about where we are. I know we have some growth. I hope we can continue to improve as we get into the season and get a little deeper.”
That depth was a reference not only to Morales, who could be back in about three weeks, but also setup man Scott Downs, whose recovery from a broken bone in his left big toe is right on schedule. — Lyle Spencer
It might be impossible to start a tradition in just a second Major League season. But Braves outfielder Jason Heyward is already making a habit out of beginning his seasons in authoritative fashion.
Heyward’s second-inning leadoff homer off Livan Hernandez Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park provided him yet another memorable Opening Day tale. The 21-year-old right fielder used the first swing of his career to belt a three-run homer off Carlos Zambrano on Opening Day at Turner Field last year.
Heyward now has the unique distinction of homering in the first at-bat of both of his first two big league seasons.
— Mark Bowman
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has a request for employers in the St. Louis area: take it easy on your workers who may be taking a mini-holiday today.
Asked if Opening Day should be a holiday in St. Louis, the manager stopped a bit short or arguing that point — but did issue a plea for leniency.
“I think it should be unofficial, because you don’t want to make it official,” La Russa said. “But if I was an employer, I certainly wouldn’t get upset if somebody was missing. They could come in and work at night. Or early in the morning. I’d make it a three- or four-hour pass. Work in the morning, work after the game, get your eight hours in. It’s not that tough.”
You won’t find Royals manager Ned Yost listening to radio, watching TV, reading baseball annual or even reading MLB.com to see what the so-called experts are saying his club will do in 2011.
“I don’t listen to ‘em. They’re a waste of time,” Yost said. “I don’t know what anybody said about anything, to be honest with you.”
In case you missed it, the Royals were champions of the Cactus League by winning percentage with a 20-10-1 record and had the best overall winning percentage (.667, not counting the tie) of all Major League clubs. The Giants won more games, finishing 23-12 with a .657 percentage. In the Grapefruit League, the Twins were best with a 20-12 record (.625).
During Reds Opening Day festivities, the 135th for Cincinnati, 1B Joey Votto was presented with his NL MVP trophy. Votto held the award over his head and acknowledged the crowd as it gave him a standing ovation. Before the game, Votto was asked about the difference between Opening Day this season and the ones of the team’s recent history.
“Last year, there was a lot of unknown whereas this year I feel like we’ve seen some of our potential and it’s going to push us to do a little more this year,” Votto said. “Our goal isn’t to have a winning season or break a streak of sub .500 seasons. Our goal is to win the World Series this year.”
Also — a little mishap on the ceremonial first pitch today. Retired Cincinnati police chief Tom Streicher threw the pitch to Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. Streicher’s pitch sailed over Morgan’s head…maybe the chief didn’t realize Morgan is about 5-foot-8.
— Mark Sheldon
The conditions at Yankee Stadium are really cold today, with a first-pitch temperature of 42. It’s damp and it’s windy. Sounds like perfect conditions for two hard-throwing starting pitchers who can jam hitters inside, right?
Well, yeah. But that doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily be a low-scoring game, the way Tigers manager Jim Leyland looks at it.
“I found out a long time ago not to try to figure this thing out, because it just doesn’t work,” Leyland said. “Normally, you go into a game like today and you figure with the cold weather, maybe the pitchers have the advantage. You have two outstanding pitchers going. But I learned a long time ago, maybe an infielder gets a wet ball and throws one away, an outfielder slips with a couple runners on because of the wet grass or something. So I’ve never tried to figure it. It is what it is.”
Those aren’t Opening Day jitters for Tigers reliever Brad Thomas. He’s just that cold.
Thomas likes to brag that he never has a winter. The Australian left-hander enjoys summers pitching in the United States, then returns home in time for the warm season there.
Opening Day weather like Thursday’s cold, rainy conditions in New York really get to him. Heck, even the sunny, mid-40s conditions for Wednesday’s workout got to him.
“This is cold for me,” Thomas said as he debated how many layers of clothing to put on under his jersey. “I’ve had summer all year round for 15 years.”
There are parts of Australia that get snowy conditions, he said, mainly around the mountainous areas. But he lives on the coast, and he doesn’t ski, so he doesn’t go there.
“This,” he said, “is the coldest winter day at home.”
Thomas’ last real bout of winter, he said, would’ve come when he first signed to play in Japan in 2005.
– Jason Beck