It wasn’t more than two days after the 2010 regular season ended when Padres general manager Jed Hoyer told reporters that he wanted the team to be stronger up the middle in 2011.
Hoyer then went out and traded for center fielder Cameron Maybin and shortstop Jason Bartlett and signed free second second baseman Orlando Hudson.
All three have made nice first impressions on Opening Day, as Maybin had a sliding catch in shallow center field on the first play of the game.
Bartlett and Hudson — with an assist to pitcher Tim Stauffer, of course — have combined to turn three double plays through the first five innings of Thursday’s game.
Strong up the middle, indeed.
– Corey Brock
Ramon Hernandez sent Cincinnati fans home happy with two-out, three-run homer off Brewers closer John Axford in the bottom of the ninth inning. Watch Hernandez’s walk-off shot.
Curtis Granderson may have been surprised to have made it into the Yankees’ lineup on Thursday, but there was no doubt about his home run that pushed his team ahead on Opening Day.
Cleared to begin the season after mending a strained oblique muscle quicker than anticipated, Granderson connected off ex-Yankee Phil Coke for a solo seventh-inning homer, nudging New York ahead en route to a 6-3 victory over the Tigers.
It was the third consecutive Opening Day home run for Granderson, who was dealt to the Yankees in December 2009 as the biggest chip in a three-way trade that also sent Coke to the Tigers from New York.
Granderson also made two ridiculous catches in center — one in the first inning and the other a Willie Mays-esque grab in the ninth.
Mark Teixeira’s three-run home run in the third inning accounted for the Yankees’ scoring against Justin Verlander, who walked four and struck out eight.
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.
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).
First hit: Chipper Jones double, Braves, first inning vs. Washington
First strikeout: CC Sabathia, Yankees, fans Austin Jackson, Tigers, first inning
First home run: Jason Heyward, Braves, second inning vs. Washington
The Reds will remember former manager Sparky Anderson with a video tribute. Anderson, the Hall of Fame skipper for Cincinnati and the Tigers, died in November at the age of 76.
Current Reds manager Dusty Baker misses Anderson and considered him a friend.
“Once I started managing and coaching, I got closer to Sparky,” Baker said on Thursday morning. “There were times I could call Sparky and ask him for advice about anything. I really miss the fact he’s not available to talk to.”
– Mark Sheldon
Bob Uecker was set for his 40th consecutive Brewers Opening Day broadcast on Thursday and revealed that, if not for one fortuitous doctor’s visit, his streak would have ended at 39.
Uecker underwent major heart surgery last April to repair a leaking aortic valve, and his return was slowed by a staph infection. By October, Uecker was feeling well enough to accept an invitation to speak at a dinner in Florida, but before traveling, he went in for one last check-up. That’s when his doctor discovered that the infection had opened another leak in Uecker’s aorta. He immediately scheduled a second surgery.
“Had I not gone for that check-up, I would have died,” Uecker said. “No doubt. Oh, no doubt. They found that hole where the staph infection had settled in and ate a hole in the new valve they put in. It was pumping blood out of my heart chamber.”
The second surgery was difficult, but deemed a success, and Uecker returned to a normal broadcast schedule in Spring Training. He’s scheduled to call all 162 games in 2011 with broadcast partner Cory Provus.
“I don’t know if I’m back to normal,” Uecker said. “My chest is a little sore yet, where they break you open. once was OK, twice is a little harder. Other than that, I feel good. … I feel stronger. I’m back swimming again [one mile per day]. I love doing that. I felt strong this spring, working-wise.”
After dropping 24 pounds last season, Uecker is back to an Opening Day weight of 190.
“That was my ‘sitting weight’ when I played,” he deadpanned.
That sense of humor never suffered during Uecker’s trying 2010. He’ll put it to work on the Brewers Radio Network this season, just like he’s done every season since stepping into the booth midway through the 1971 season. He’s done every Opening Day game since, and calculated that Thursday marked his 56th Major League opening day if you count his days as a player.
“Fifty-six years,” he said wistfully, “and I’m still not in the lineup.”
– Adam McCalvy