ANAHEIM – Albert Pujols has said that his first Opening Day at-bat is one of very few times he’ll ever feel nervous on a baseball field – along with his first at-bat of Spring Training and his first at-bat of the playoffs.
But Friday night didn’t feel like just any Opening Day for the premier slugger. It was his first under the weight of a $240 million contract, his first without a Cardinals jersey on, and his first in front of a West-coast fan base eager to see great things.
Afterwards, Pujols maintained, it was no different.
“It was the same nerves I’ve been going through my first 11 years in the big leagues,” he said after going 0-for-3 with a strikeout and an intentional walk. “It’s just something that my dad told me – if you don’t go through that, whether it’s when you walk in early to the park and get ready, excited for the game, he always told me you ain’t ready. I knew I was ready because I was going through that, and I wanted to do something special. But that’s the way it goes. We got a win. I think that’s the most important thing.”
The Angels drew a sold-out crowd, as expected, on Opening Night against the Royals – an eventual 5-0 win sparked by a Jered Weaver gem and an eighth-inning surge.
Three hours before game time, the parking lot was almost full. When gates opened at 5 p.m. PT, a sea of red flooded in. And when players were introduced, the noise was almost deafening.
In many ways, it was a typical Opening Day for the Angels.
In many ways – because of the expectations and buzz surrounding the Pujols and C.J. Wilson signings – it wasn’t.
“For sure, this is the most exciting it’s been in the area for the Angels,” said Jared Pfeifer, a long-time Angels fan who resides in Yorba Linda, Calif. “I have never seen more people wearing Angels gear in one area my entire life.”
The opening ceremonies included a David Cook National Anthem, ceremonial first pitches thrown out by three members of the 2002 World Series team – Tim Salmon, David Eckstein and Troy Percival – and a C17 flyover.
Before that, an announced crowd of 44,106 provided a loud ovation for Pujols, who doffed his cap from the third-base line in appreciation.
“They were excited,” Pujols said. “They couldn’t wait until this day. Neither could we. We were looking forward to it, and it was great to come up with the win today.”
Angels fans have been jubilant about their club before.
There was that inspiring run to the 2002 World Series. There was the signings of Vladimir Guerrero and Don Baylor. The trades for Rod Carew and Nolan Ryan.
But this, perhaps, is different.
“This is definitely the most excited I’ve ever been going into a season,” added Adam Rank of Huntington Beach, Calif. “There’s just a lot of really high expectations.”
— Alden Gonzalez
HOUSTON — Friday was a little more special for the 10 Astros players who were making their first appearance on an Opening Day roster: second baseman Jose Altuve, outfielders J.D. Martinez and Brian Bogusevic, catcher Jason Castro and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez and pitchers David Carpenter, Rhiner Cruz, Fernando Rodriguez, Kyle Weiland and Lucas Harrell.
“Opening Day is a big day,” said Martinez, who was called up last July. “I used to go to Opening Day in Miami and it was a big, big game. That was the game to go to. I’m just excited to be part of it now and I’m the guy standing on the field now instead of being in the stands.”
Carpenter, who pitched in 34 games in his Major League debut last year, relished the chance to be on the Opening Day roster and get introduced before the fans.
“I’ve heard so much about it,” he said. “Guys talk about how great Opening Day is and to get to see it firsthand is going to be a lot of fun. I’ve got a feeling there’s going to be butterflies like there was the first time I got the chance to take the mound here. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Perhaps no one was more excited than Cruz, a hard-throwing pitcher taken in the Rule 5 Draft last December. He had never played above Double-A prior to the Astros plucking him away from the Mets.
“I felt so excited when they told me for the first time I had made the team,” he said. “I’m still working hard and trying to help the team all the time.”
— Brian McTaggart
PHOENIX — As you might expect, Friday was a special time for Dan Otero.
This was officially Otero’s first day in the Major Leagues after spending five years in the Giants’ farm system. A 21st-round selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, the right-handed reliever reveled in his surroundings at Chase Field, where the Giants opened their season.
Asked how long he had yearned for this day, Otero replied, “Since I was about three years old and given a baseball glove for Christmas. This is what I dreamed about. This is awesome, just to be a part of this, to be on the Opening Day roster.”
Some players resist the romance of the game. Not Otero, who grasped Opening Day’s significance.
“I’m a huge baseball fan,” said Otero, a Miami-area native. “I love the history of the game. So, growing up, I’d watch as many games as I possibly could. Opening Day was one of my favorite days because I could watch 10 games on different channels, flip back and forth, from one o’clock until 11 o’clock. It was great. So to be a part of it now is almost surreal.”
Wearing jersey No. 87, Otero was the Giants’ last non-starter to be introduced during pregame ceremonies. He looked calm enough as he stood on the first-base line, but before the game he admitted that this would not be an ordinary ceremony.
“I’ll definitely have some goosebumps,” Otero said. “I’ll try to stay in the moment. I just want to remember it and enjoy it.”
Otero, 27, earned his big league chance with an outstanding Spring Training performance. He recorded a 0.82 ERA, surrendering one earned run in 11 innings spanning 10 appearances. Besides garnering his place on the active roster — which could be vulnerable when Ryan Vogelsong is ready to return from the disabled list — Otero won the Harry S. Jordan award, which is given annually to the most dedicated and spirited player attending his first Major League camp.
– Chris Haft
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Opening Day brought out a festive atmosphere to Tropicana Field, where the Rays opened their 2012 season Friday afternoon against the Yankees.
The pregame activities began with Jim Dundee, son of the late boxing legend Angelo Dundee, delivering the ceremonial first pitch Evan Longoria. The ball used was the one struck by Evan Longoria for his walk-off home run in the 12th inning of Game 162, on Sept. 28, 2011, sending the Rays to the postseason.
Angelo, an avid Rays fan and Clearwater, Fla., resident, died on Feb. 1 at the age of 90.
After the Yankees’ introduction along the third-base line, the Rays were introduced to raucous applause from the sellout crowd. Maddon, Carlos Pena, James Shields, Longoria, and Don Zimmer received particularly loud ovations.
Popular Tampa Bay area saxophonist B.K. Jackson performed the National Athem, which led up to a showing of a film that captured the drama from Game 161, much to the delight of the crowd.
The pre-game ceremony concluded when the Rays hoisted an American League 2011 Wild Card banner, which joined a 2010 AL East Champions banner, and 2008 banners for winning the AL East and with the American League pennant. All of the banners reside above the left-field stands.
*How relaxed is Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta? He was on the field pregame with socks and sandals and a camera strapped around his neck. “I’m testing out my photography skills,” said Arrieta, who was taking in the moment like a fan, snapping shots of his teammates during batting practice. Arrieta has 12 people here for his first Opening Day starter, and second consecutive home opener.
*Manager Buck Showalter confirmed the obvious in naming Jim Johnson closer. As for Kevin Gregg, Showalter said he could be used in a variety of roles. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Here’s what Gregg had to say..
“I knew that [Johnson would be the closer],” said Gregg, who said he spoke with Showalter this spring about it. “I’m going to be political; I’m here to help the team. I’ll pitch whenever Buck needs me to pitch.” More
Nate Jones had his wife, agent and a couple of friends, including the best man at his wedding, on hand for Friday’s season opener at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Fellow rookie reliever Addison Reed had a couple of friends he went to school with, who now live in Texas, in attendance.
These two are part of a group of seven on the White Sox roster experiencing their first Opening Day, joined by Tyler Flowers, Eduardo Escobar, Hector Santiago, Zach Stewart and Dayan Viciedo. It’s the culmination of a dream for these young men, feeling more real with each passing moment.
“In Spring Training, there was really not a 100 percent guarantee I was on the team,” Reed said. “The whole time that was my main focus. It’s an awesome feeling and I can’t wait to get this season underway and get it going.”
“Anyway that you can get here is awesome,” Jones said. “I know during spring, I had to fight for it and I just wanted to keep throwing strikes and it paid off. I’m just excited to be here.”
It was at Tropicana Field last Sept. 28 that the Yankees played a part in one of the most memorable closing games in baseball history, with Evan Longoria blasting a walk-off home run facing Scott Proctor in the 12th inning to lift the Rays to a Wild Card-clinching 8-7 victory, just minutes after the Orioles shattered the Red Sox’s playoff hopes with a victory at Camden Yards.
It’s impossible not to look out at the artificial turf here and think of that amazing night — Dan Johnson’s homer, Mark Teixeira’s grand slam earlier in the evening, and the Yankees’ carousel of 11 pitchers who showed differing levels of effectiveness. The Yankees wouldn’t have guessed their season was heading for an early end that night, as they finished a campaign with 97 wins and the American League East title, but they’re ready to try to avenge those losses now.
“I’m very anxious,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think you look forward to this day from the day we get to Spring Training. I’ve actually been looking forward to it since last year. We had a good Spring Training. I was happy with it. We got everything done we needed to. Now it’s time to play for real.”
Opening Day starts should be old hat by now for CC Sabathia, who will be making his ninth career Opening Day start and his fourth in a Yankees uniform, but the left-handed ace said he still feels the same raw emotions leading into the appearance.
“I still get butterflies before pretty much every game, but especially Opening Day,” Sabathia said. “It’s a brand new season and you want to start the season off right. It’s an honor to be able to go out there and take the ball.”
The Yankees were sporting t-shirts in the clubhouse before Friday’s game with the inspirational message “Mind, Heart, Guts” on the back, with the front reading, “Yankees 1°.” The shirts were the brainchild of director of mental conditioning Chad Bohling, unifying the team even without their game uniforms on. It’s not the type of clubhouse Sabathia necessarily envisioned in 2008, when GM Brian Cashman told him the team was broken and needed his presence.
“The perception is that it’s not a close clubhouse, that it’s not a place where guys want to go,” Sabathia said. “You hear that as a player. That’s something I was really concerned about, and coming from Cleveland, where I had grown up with all these guys, and being so close to those guys in Milwaukee over a two-month span, it was really something that was important to me, making sure the clubhouse was good.”
Players like Sabathia, along with newcomers like Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira, seem to have blended seamlessly with an old guard that features Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and — soon — Andy Pettitte. No wonder Cashman ranks Sabathia’s deal among the best he has ever presented to a starting pitcher, right alongside Mike Mussina’s contract.
“I know what our clubhouse is, and I know how much fun we have,” Sabathia said, “and what it means to us to be able to root for each other, and pull for each other and have fun. I don’t really worry about it anymore.”
Rangers club president Nolan Ryan went over to the White Sox clubhouse before Friday’s game to meet with manager Robin Ventura. Ryan just wished Ventura good luck and they chatted for a few minutes. This was the first time they have spoken since their famous 1993 brawl at Arlington Stadium. Ventura was making his Major League debut as the White Sox manager on Friday against the Rangers.
BALTIMORE — While the Orioles celebrated the 20th anniversary of Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire celebrated an anniversary of his own.
Minnesota’s Opening Day tilt against Baltimore marked Gardenhire’s 10th season as manager after he took over from Tom Kelly prior to the 2002 season.
But Gardenhire became manager amid turmoil, as contraction threatened the Twins that offseason, but ultimately they played the season and ended up advancing all the way to the American League Championship Series where they lost to the Angels in five games.
“We talked about that a few times,” Gardenhire said about the rumors of contraction that offseason. “More so than anything else, was the wait after I interviewed for the job. The wait in between being interviewed and not knowing whether I’d be a manager or even have a job. It was pretty entertaining.
“But the coaching staff, we couldn’t start looking for another job because we were still with the Twins. I was interviewed for the manager’s job so I had to sit back and wait. Terry [Ryan] kind of saved the day for myself and the organization by saying he was staying and that we’d go about business as normal to prepare for a season. That was huge. So he gave me this opportunity, and it’s been a fun time.”
Under Gardenhire, the second-longest tenured manager in baseball behind Angels skipper Mike Scioscia, the Twins have won the AL Central six times. But Gardenhire says he never looks back at what he’s accomplished so far as manager.
“I don’t,” Gardenhire said. “I just go day by day and year by year. I enjoy what I’m doing, I enjoy the organization and I enjoy where I live. Everybody in baseball knows you’re always fortunate to stay in baseball with the longevity I’ve had here along with my coaching staff. It’s not the norm. I’m blessed to say the least. As for as judging we’ve had some success, some years that haven’t gone as well, and we haven’t won a World Series and that’s always the goal. So we haven’t finished the job yet.”
— Rhett Bollinger
Opening Day continues today. Here are Friday’s Major League Baseball games:
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