Thursday, April 13, 2006

Play Ball! The Season Starts in the Bronx

by Scott Silversten

For most of the last century, baseball’s traditional season opener was played in Cincinnati. In recent years, the marketing geniuses at Major League Baseball (talk about an oxymoron) have gone to a Sunday night opener televised by ESPN, an event spoiled by rain earlier this month in Chicago.

However, with apologies to the Queen and Windy cities, the baseball year does not truly begin until the New York Yankees play their first game in the Bronx. Even Yankee haters must admit that there is something special about Opening Day at 161st Street and River Avenue.

In typical fashion, the Yankees produced a little magic in their first home game of the season on Tuesday. The following is a minute-by-minute account of the day’s highlights:

12:43 p.m. – The Opening Day ceremonies begin with Bill Hall’s introductions of the two teams. Hall is a last-minute fill-in for famed Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who missed his first opener in 55 years after suffering a hip injury. While Hall sounds a lot like Sheppard, there is still a small piece of history missing from the afternoon.

12:50 – Joe Torre is introduced for the 11th time as manager on Opening Day in the Bronx. Is there anyone who could have envisioned through the snow of Opening Day 1996 that Torre would have lasted over decade at the helm of the Yankees?

12:51 – Alex Rodriguez, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, strides onto the field to a mixed reception of cheers and boos. It’s hard to imagine a scene like this taking place in most other baseball cities, but while Yankees fans like to think they are the most "knowledgeable" in the nation, it has become more and more obviously that they are just spoiled.

1:06 – Hall-of-Fame catcher Yogi Berra throws out the first pitch, a moment inexplicably missed by the YES Network, which is in commercial at the time.

1:09 – Chien-Ming Wang throws the first pitch of the game under perfect sunshine.

1:17 – Johnny Damon begins his career in Yankee pinstripes with a double to left field.

1:25 – Jason Giambi blasts a three-run homer into the right-center field bleachers, giving the Yankees an early 3-0 lead. Giambi receives a curtain call, proving that his bizarre press conference of last spring, when he apologized without saying what he was apologizing for, is long forgotten by the New York faithful.

2:24 – The euphoria of the early part of the game is quickly erased as the Royals force a 4-4 tie on John Buck’s RBI double in the top of the fourth inning. An uneasy buzz engulfs the House that Ruth Built. There is no truth to the rumors that at this point, George Steinbrenner began writing a statement apologizing for his team.

2:38 – With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the fourth, Gary Sheffield continues the theme of the early part of New York’s season by failing to come through in the clutch, popping out to shortstop. Bernie Williams gets caught off second base to end the inning. The fans boo.

3:02 – A double play ground out gives the Royals a 5-4 lead.

3:13 – On his first pitch of the afternoon, Tanyon Sturtze gives up a homer to Shane Costa. Seven minutes and another run later, Sturtze gets booed off the mound with the Royals leading, 7-4.

3:49 – Giambi draws a walk to open the home half of the seventh, his 10th free pass of the season. A "Let’s go Yankees" chant rises from the stands as Hideki Matsui follows with a single to left.

3:58 – Williams, who received the biggest cheers of the day, delivers a run-scoring single to bring the Yankees within 7-6. In their last home contest, Game Four of the 2005 AL Division Series against Anaheim, Williams also received cheers as Yankees fans incorrectly anticipated his departure after a 15-year career in the Bronx.

4:02 – Damon strikes out, and is booed.

4:03 – Derek Jeter launches a three-run homer into the left-field stands on the first pitch he sees from Kansas City closer Ambiorix Burgos to provide a 9-7 lead. The Yankees captain receives a curtain call and the fans break into a "Der-ek Je-ter" chant. The baseball season is officially underway.

4:12 – Mike Sweeney gets hit by a Mariano Rivera pitch, putting the tying runs on base for the Royals with just one out in the top of the ninth.

4:19 – Rivera catches Doug Mientkiewicz’s soft liner to end the game and give the Yankees’ their ninth straight home-opener victory, a new American League record.

Now for the rest of the season...

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday

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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
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