|Play ball! Spring is here as most major league teams prepare for openers|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 30 March 2008 14:39|
The former Texas Rangers owner, wearing a bright red team jacket, threw the ceremonial first pitch - high and to the third-base side of the plate - to Nationals manager Manny Acta before Washington inaugurated National Ballpark against Atlanta before a sellout crowd of about 41,000 on Sunday night.
There was a mixture of boos and cheers for Bush. Those in the upper deck of the $611 million ballpark could see the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The cherry blossoms planted beyond the left-field bleachers weren't yet in bloom.
While the World Series champion Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics started the season by splitting a two-game series last week in Tokyo, it won't feel like opening day in most places until Monday, when 26 of the 30 clubs get under way.
There will be the traditional opening in Cincinnati, where the Reds host Arizona. The Chicago Cubs, who haven't won the World Series in exactly a century, host Milwaukee at Wrigley Field - where fans are worried new owner Sam Zell will sell naming rights for the beloved ballpark to some corporate sponsor before unloading the team.
Joe Torre will manage the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first time, and Joe Girardi will manage his first game as Torre's replacement with the Yankees - who host opening day at Yankee Stadium for the final time.
``It'll probably be emotional,'' New York captain Derek Jeter said. ``I really don't know what to expect. I'm sure you'll take a look around and try to remember as many things as you can. It's going to be a special year.''
In Chicago, Cubs manager Lou Piniella wore a ski hat over his baseball cap at Sunday's Wrigley workout. It was 40 degrees, not at all like the weather at their spring-training camp in Mesa, Ariz.
``It is cold,'' new right fielder Kosuke Fukudome said.
In New York, the Yankees will try to get off to a fast start in hopes of World Series title No. 27. The big ballpark in the Bronx opened in 1923, and the new stadium rising across 161st St. won't seem the same.
``We're hoping to try to rock the house here one more season before we get there - or somebody's going to rock my house,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said with a laugh.
Torre will be at Dodger Stadium managing Los Angeles in its opener against San Francisco - which is without Barry Bonds on its roster for the first time since 1992. The 67-year-old Torre managed the Yankees to 12 straight postseason appearances including four World Series championships before rejecting an offer to continue on the job last fall.
``I'll be excited. When I stop getting excited, I should be doing something else,'' Torre said. ``It never gets old. I think we're about as ready as we can be, considering everything around us. We're going to be as good as our pitching allows us to be.''
In Minneapolis, Torii Hunter plans to wake up early on opening day and head to his favorite pancake place for breakfast, just as he's often done before so many games at the Metrodome.
``I'm going to do all of the other things that I used to do before I go to the stadium, but once I get to that stadium and put on that Angels uniform,'' Hunter said, ``I'm the enemy.''
The seven-time Gold Glove center fielder left the Twins to sign a $90 million, five-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
``Obviously when we see him in that other dugout that's going to be weird,'' Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said. ``As long as he's not robbing home runs from me, we'll be all right.''
Johan Santana, who departed the Twins to sign a $137.5 million, six-year deal with the Mets, will make his first start for New York at Florida. The Marlins, you may remember, won at Shea Stadium on the final day of last season, completing New York's collapse from a seven-game NL East lead with 17 to play.
``It's another opening day, but at the same time, I'm very excited,'' said the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner, who received the largest contract ever given a pitcher. ``New uniform, a lot of expectations and I'm very happy for it. Hopefully everything will go the way everybody wants.''
In St. Louis, the NL's last two World Series teams play on opening day in a matchup that features two of the league's best hitters: the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and the Rockies' Matt Holliday.
``We need to win four more games,'' Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said, thinking back to last October, when Colorado was swept in the World Series by the Red Sox.
The rest of the AL schedule Monday has Kansas City at Detroit, Tampa Bay at Baltimore, Chicago at Cleveland and Texas at Seattle. In the NL, it's Washington at Philadelphia, Pittsburgh at Atlanta and Houston at San Diego.
Outfielder Jay Gibbons was cut ahead of the Orioles' opener. Baltimore owed $11.9 million over the next two years to Gibbons, whose 15-day suspension was put on hold for 10 days Friday by the commissioner's office and the players' association. Gibbons admitted possessing human growth hormone after it was banned in 2005.
Baltimore decided to keep the more versatile Scott Moore as a utility player.
``We laid it out pretty clearly,'' Orioles president Andy MacPhail said. ``For you to be a productive player you need to play, and that opportunity just doesn't exist here absent some horrific injury. His words were, 'I agree completely.'''
AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick and AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell, R.B. Fallstrom, Rick Gano, David Ginsburg, Howard Fendrich, John Nadel, Tim Reynolds, Arnie Stapleton and Joseph White contributed to this report.