Incoming and outgoing owners Magic Johnson and Frank McCourt were part of a sold-out Opening Day crowd at PETCO Park. Johnson, the face of a group buying the Dodgers and Dodger Stadium for $2.15 billion, made a quick pre-game pass through the clubhouse and said hello to manager Don Mattingly. Johnson also leaned into the dugout from his box seats to congratulate Matt Kemp after his eighth-inning home run. — Ken Gurnick
NEW YORK — Tyler Pastornicky struggled to deal with the pressure he felt during the early weeks of Spring Training. But the night before making his Major League debut as the Braves’ starting shortstop in front of a raucous Opening Day crowd, Pastornicky soundly slept in his Manhattan hotel room.
“I was just overly tired,” Pastornicky said. “It’s been kind of a long couple of days.”
This has been quite a week for Pastornicky, who learned on Monday that he had won his battle against Andrelton Simmons to begin the year as Atlanta’s starting shortstop. The 22-year-old infielder enjoyed seeing New York City for the first time on Wednesday.
But this week’s greatest thrill occurred at Citi Field on Thursday afternoon as he experienced the thrill of playing in his first big league game. The debut proved memorable even though his contributions did not prevent the Braves from suffering a 1-0 Opening Day loss to the Mets.
“I felt great,” Pastornicky said. “I think I got all of my nerves out in Spring Training with that terrible start. I felt great. It was a tough game. But, it was good to get the first one out of the way.”
Pastornicky notched his first Major League hit with a seventh-inning triple off Ramon Ramirez. But his most encouraging plate appearance might have transpired in the fifth inning, when he fell behind with an 0-2 count and then drew a walk off Johan Santana. This led Santana to throw an additional 16 pitches and end his outing after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fifth.
“That’s one thing I had to learn in Spring Training, hitting eighth with the pitcher behind you in a spot like that, you’re probably not going to get many good pitches to hit,” Pastornicky said. “So I had to definitely use patience there.”
As Pastornicky ranged to his left to grab a second inning grounder and helped turn a fourth-inning double play, his parents were watching from their stadium seats. The Blue Jays paid for Cliff Pastornicky and his wife, Jane, to travel to New York to see their son’s debut. The elder Pastornicky is a professional scout for the Blue Jays.
“I can’t believe they would do something like that,” Pastornicky said. “It’s awesome. That’s classy.”
NEW YORK — The loudest ovations were for R.A. Dickey and David Wright. Hall of Fame player and broadcaster Ralph Kiner received a standing ovation as he read the starting lineup.
“There’s an old expression,” Kiner said. “I’m very happy to be here. But at my age, I’m happy to be anywhere.”
After that, along with a ceremony to honor late Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, Opening Day began for the Mets. Representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard sang the national anthem at Citi Field, marking the first time all-female singers from each branch of the military have sung together at a major U.S. sporting event.
“When you spend your whole life doing this, Opening Day means it’s the start of the things you like to do best, and that’s play the games,” manager Terry Collins said. “Summer’s on the way. Winter’s over.”
Entering his second season at the helm, Collins was not the only member of the Mets anxious to begin. General manager Sandy Alderson, who had not tweeted from his @MetsGM account since February, relayed a message roughly a half hour before first pitch.
“Opening Day with beautiful weather and Johan Santana on the mound,” Alderson wrote. “What a great way to start the season. Let’s go Mets!”
Our fellow blogger Mitch Williams, the MLB.com columnist, MLB Network studio analyst and former closer, just posted over on Wild Things and predicted that the D-backs will meet the Tigers in the World Series. Here’s an excerpt from his National League predictions post he just saved, so be sure to go leave him comments whether you agree or disagree:
I see Washington and Milwaukee meeting in the one-game playoff, with the Nats advancing to play the Phillies in the Division Series. The Phillies have a big advantage in experience and will win this series, while Justin Upton and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat St. Louis in the other NLDS.
I’m going out on a limb and saying Arizona beats Philly in the NLCS and advances to the World Series.
Quick commercial break to announce the Latest Leaders, and not the ones starting to show up in the batting and pitching stats. We’re talking about the March leaders by page view right here at MLB.com Blogs, posted just now on our community blog. MLB.com beat reporter Jen Langosch dominated overall in the community with her Cardinals blog By Gosh, It’s Langosch. Seems that Cardinals fans are hungry for more in 2012. Topping the PRO theme category was the Mariners’ official front-office blog, From the Corner of Edgar & Dave. Rays Renegade maintained his hold on the top of the FAN rankings. Be sure to check all those blogs out to see why they are so popular, and start your own MLB.com Blog so you have a chance to make the April Latest Leaders while the month is early. OK, back to our games…
CINCINNATI – Opening Day isn’t just the first game of the regular season for the Reds, it’s an actual holiday for the city of Cincinnati.
Founded in 1869 as baseball’s first professional club, the Reds held Opening Day No. 136 on Thursday vs. the Marlins. As usual, there were no shortages of pomp and circumstance that made the day unique.
“I know how big Opening Day is here. It’s larger here than any place I’ve been,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Once upon a time, the Reds had the honor of playing the very first game of every season. Now the club has the privilege of getting to open every regular season at home.
Cincinnati is also the only big league city that has a venerable parade to celebrate the beginning of a season. For the 93rd time, the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade rolled from the streets of Over-the-Rhine into downtown.
Former Reds star and current ESPN broadcaster Aaron Boone served as grand marshal and current players Mat Latos and Nick Masset also took part and rode in the back of a car towards Fountain Square.
Just before game time, the Rosie Reds social group continued their time-honored tradition of presenting fruit baskets to both teams’ managers – Baker from the Reds and Ozzie Guillen from the Marlins.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman served as the game’s honorary captain. Retiring Hamilton County sheriff bounced a ceremonial first pitch – but it’s Opening Day, so it counted as a strike.
After the introductions of both the Reds and Marlins, there was a moment of silence to honor a former owner, the late Carl Lindner and former Red Jerry Lynch, both whom died during the off-season. The Reds also paused to remember victims of March tornadoes that devastated parts of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
Grammy Award winning recording artist Rodney Atkins sang the National Anthem as a giant American flag shaped like the country was unfurled across the outfield.
Taking it all in was television personality and singer Nick Lachey, along with his wife Vanessa Minnillo-Lachey, the entertainment reporter. Lachey, a native Cincinnatian, has previously thrown a ceremonial first pitch at a Reds opener.
“It’s literally my favorite day of the year for this city to be able to have our opener at home every year,” Lachey said. “It’s an unofficial holiday. The sun is shining and everyone is optimistic. Opening day is perfect. Everyone starts at zero. There is nothing but promise. It’s a good day.”
Even for a veteran player of 17 seasons like Reds third baseman Scott Rolen, Opening Day remains a special time – no matter the city where it’s being held.
“It’s always been a celebration time for baseball across the country,” Rolen said. “Everybody fills their stadiums up and I think people look forward to it, people get excited about it – fans and players – you get your nerves and butterflies and everything. Everybody is looking for their first hit and all that stuff. That’s not the important stuff. You go out there and the country is looking forward to that day.”
Actor and comedian Bill Murray was to throw the ceremonial first pitch before the Cubs season opener against the Nationals but first, the 62-year-old scampered around the bases before sliding home. Then, he took the mound and bounced the first pitch to Kerry Wood. Murray also will sing the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field. (Getty pics)
— Carrie Muskat
PITTSBURGH — This was a crowd that came to cheer. Opening Day fans at PNC Park couldn’t hold their voices during the always-patriotic, sometimes solemn ceremonies that set the stage for the beginning of the Pirates’ 126th season.
With United States Military representatives presenting the colors around second base and introduced Pirates and Phillies lined up on their respective baselines, the observations began with a video montage of all the former Pirates who have passed away since the last Opening Day, followed by a request for a moment of silence.
Instead, the fans almost immediately broke into a standing ovation of gratitude for those players who’d thrilled them in bygone years.
Thinking they had heard the final verse of 11-year-old Shane Treloar’s stunning rendition of America the Beautiful, the crowd broke into appreciative applause. But Shane was only catching his breath, and continued on to an even louder ovation.
Then members of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Army Field Band Ensemble harmonized through a touching rendition of the National Anthem.
Grateful recognition of the military and of veterans culminated with Pittsburgh-native Jeremy Feldbusch delivering the ceremonial first pitch. Feldbusch lost his sight during his tour of duty in Iraq, when the Army Ranger’s unit came under fire and an explosive detonated near him.
Feldbusch, representing the Wounded Warriors Project, still delivered a perfect strike to get a perfect day of baseball’s perennial rebirth underway.