For Josh Hamilton, opening day has been a long time coming.
04/04/2007 6:56 PM ET
Josh Hamilton arrives
Originally the top overall draft pick by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, Hamilton has endured injuries, personal crisis and addiction to get where he is today -- on the Major League roster of the Cincinnati Reds.
In his first and only at-bat on Monday, Hamilton hit a line drive to the outfield where Cubs left fielder Matt Murton dove and made the catch. But it was the moments prior to the at-bat that will be remembered.
"That was awesome," Reds left fielder Adam Dunn told the Cincinnati Post. "I've never seen anyone that excited in my life. He deserves every of bit of it, if not more. He's such a good guy. He deserves everything that's coming to him, because he's had battles in his life."
With the crowd of over 42,700 on their feet, Hamilton's wife, Katie, finally got to see what they've been waiting for.
"When the crowd was standing up and cheering for him and both of our families were cheering and crying, that was the, 'We're here!' (moment)," she said.
Josh noticed the crowd, too.
"You see this right here?" Hamilton said pointing to his own grinning mug. "I couldn't stop smiling. It was unbelievable. I've never witnessed anything like that. The way the fans have reacted since I've been here, it's hard to describe. I didn't imagine it being like that."
Then Hamilton took a playful jab at Murton.
"And what's up," he asked, "with the guy making a Web Gem on my hit? C'mon. I think he held up a little bit to make it look better."
The ovation didn't come without an accomplice, though, as Chicago pitcher Will Ohman stepped off of the mound for a moment as the crowd wished Hamilton well.
"That was his time," Ohman said. "It's a great story. Congratulations to him for battling through what he's gone through. I can't even imagine that. Absolutely, that's his time. ... Just pause, and wait. And let's play."
Hamilton was quite content with that idea.
"I took the first pitch; I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was going to be at the plate," he said. "I think the nerves got overshadowed by how awesome the feeling was from the crowd. That kind of broke the ice for me. It made me feel like I didn't have to hit a home run or whatever. Just be in there and play."
Biggio starts opener -- again: Monday marked the club-record 19th consecutive Opening Day start for Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio. Biggio, who started the year 70 hits shy of 3,000, received a standing ovation during player introductions.
"You appreciate it more and more, but you always get excited," Biggio told the Houston Chronicle. "I don't care who you are. If you're not getting excited, you shouldn't be putting on a uniform anymore."
Biggio struggled in his first three at-bats, so before his fourth plate appearance, he asked hitting coach Sean Berry to check videotape to see if he could find what Biggio may be doing wrong. Berry told Biggio that when his hands don't get going on time, his stance widens. Biggio took advantage of the advice and singled to left for his first hit of the year.
"You lean on him," Biggio said. "That's what you do. That's what you do as a player or a coach. You say something doesn't feel right and go take a peek, and he did. It made a little bit of a difference for me.
"The thing about hitting is it's so much precision, and if he can see something, it helps you out a little bit."
Sheets hurls brilliant opener: Ben Sheets didn't strike out 18 batters like he did against the Atlanta Braves three years ago, but his performance Monday night in the season opener against the Dodgers was no less impressive.
Sheets held Los Angeles to only one run and two hits to lead the Brewers to a 7-1 win. After allowing a home run to Jeff Kent in the second inning, Sheets recorded 22 straight outs before former Brewer Brady Clark hit a double with one out in the ninth inning.
"It was nice to be on the other end of a performance like this," catcher Johnny Estrada, who played for the Atlanta Braves three years ago when Sheets recorded his franchise-record 18 strikeouts, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"I didn't realize how special this was until the ninth inning when I looked up and realized he had only given up one hit."
Brewers fans were impressed with Sheets as well, giving him a standing ovation when he came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning. While Sheets pitched with nerves of steal, he wasn't so calm before the start of the game.
"I had a sumo wrestler wrestling in my belly," he said. "In the first inning, there were a lot of emotions out there. In the Kent at-bat, I was trying to bring myself back down, and he got me. You can't pitch on that kind of emotion the whole game."
Rookie Callaspo sparks rally: Arizona rookie Alberto Callaspo is nearly impossible to strike out. In 70 spring plate appearances, he did not strike out once. In fact, he swung at and missed a pitch only three times all spring.
"I must have been off those days, because I never saw it," Arizona second baseman Orlando Hudson, told the East Valley Tribune. "Him and Ichiro (Suzuki, Seattle outfielder) are the type of guys who can do that. They can manhandle that bat. They can work holes. They can spit on some nasty pitches, where guys like myself will be swinging, head in the sand, ball in the dirt."
Taking advantage of his ability to hit the ball, Callaspo grounded a pinch-hit single through the hole at shortstop to start a Diamondbacks' three-run rally en route to an 8-6 win Monday. Teammate Chris Young was running from first base and shortstop vacated his spot to cover second base.
"I was trying to find the hole and I got it," said Callaspo, who saw shortstop Troy Tulowitzki move toward second base to cover. "I don't know how I do it. I just swing."
"We rolled the dice there and 'Cayo' came up huge," manager Bob Melvin said.
Dukes opens with big hit: Elijah Dukes showed why he is such a promising player Monday in Tampa Bay's season opener against the New York Yankees. After walking in his first plate appearance as a Major League player, Dukes hit a 1-1 pitch from Carl Pavano over the center field wall, giving him a home run in his first official major league at-bat.
"I was impressed, I was surprised, all the emotions," left fielder Carl Crawford told the St. Petersburg Times. "I was happy for him because of the road he's had to take to get here. It's been real tough for him."
On hand to see Dukes' accomplishment were two aunts and one cousin. That helped make the day even more special for Dukes.
"It was a great feeling," he said. "Spring Training kind of prepares you to handle that pressure of playing against guys who are future Hall of Famers and All-Stars and things like that. It's always a good feeling being on the field and competing against the world's best. And just me struggling, and then coming up, knowing I can change my kids' lives. That's what it's all about."
Tampa Bay equipment manager Chris Westmoreland was able to retrieve the ball, and plans to have it and Dukes' bat mounted.
"That's going to my house," Dukes said. "It's a nice little gift."
Bay lifts Bucs in opener: With a new season comes new hope for every single Major League Baseball team, and one team that played better than .500 ball in the second half of 2006 has high expectations for 2007 -- the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In their first game on Monday, the Pirates and the Houston Astros found themselves in an old-fashioned pitcher's dual between Houston's Roy Oswalt and the Bucs' Zach Duke.
After trailing 2-0 only to tie the game at two, veteran outfielder Jason Bay smashed a two-run home run off of Chad Qualls to give the Pirates a 4-2 victory.
"That's about as jumping-up-and-down as you're going to get from me," Bay told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Opening Day is the only one that's any different from the other 161; you get that special feeling. And the manner in which we won -- down and out and then, bang! It was huge for this team.
"And it meant a lot to me, being a leader on this team, having a chance to come up in that situation. You're not going to do it every time, but to do it today -- Opening Day and everything -- it meant a little bit more."
Grudzielanek's three hits, RBIs lift Royals: Kansas City Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek had quite an Opening Day, contributing three hits and three RBIs in the Royals 7-1 victory over Boston on Monday. Grudzielanek was impressed with what he accomplished.
"I haven't had that kind of Opening Day in a long time," he told the Kansas City Star, "where something special like that happened and the family was here. Then to have a game like that, to beat a tough team and a tough pitcher (Curt Schilling) -- it was just a picture-perfect day for the team and me."
The winner of the 2006 American League Gold Glove at second base, Grudzielanek said after the game that he was humbled by the honor.
"It was so rewarding to be among the best," he said. "It meant a lot to me. I worked hard for it. I worked my butt off for many, many years for it to, finally, come true.
"I'm just going to try to look back on this when I'm done playing because I just don't want to wake up from this dream right now. It's such a good one."
King Felix tosses gem: Felix Hernandez turned in the finest outing of his brief career when he spun a three-hit, 12-strikeout performance in the Mariners' Opening Day win over the A's.
"His location was good and so was his poise on Opening Day," outfielder Raul Ibanez told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after watching semi-leisurely from left field. "When a guy pitches like that, I almost become a fan.
"His stuff has always been there. Today he was able to keep it all under control."
Hernandez reached 98 mph with his fastball in the 4-0 win. He struck out leadoff hitter Jason Kendall three straight times before Kendall hit a ground ball and reached base on an error in the eighth inning.
"Before he was kind of erratic when we faced him," Kendall said. "But tonight he got ahead and threw strikes."
Mariners manager Mike Hargrove is pleased with the progress made by Hernandez.
"From FanFest (in January), I knew he wanted to be the Opening Day starter," Hargrove said. "But I wanted to see how he went about his business in Spring Training, whether he would do two days of work and two days of slack."
Hernandez earned the start with a strong Spring Training.
"He's 20 in chronology," Hargrove said, "but that has nothing to do with maturity. He's a rare breed who has grasped the concept."
Dontrelle continues April brilliance: Dontrelle Willis won his Opening Day start, leading the Marlins to a 9-2 win over the Nationals. The win upped Willis' career record in April to 10-1 in 16 starts.
"Dontrelle those last two hitters, boy, he had something left in the tank," manager Fredi Gonzalez told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "That's why he is what he is. He's an ace. ... He's cruising along, got himself into a little jam there and all of a sudden, 'Here it is. This is why I'm the No. 1.'"
Willis pitched six innings and allowed just one earned run.
"We were relaxed, very relaxed," Willis said. "We had a good Spring Training as far as what we wanted to do and what we wanted to work on. Now we're just trying to steamroll it into the season."
-- Red Line Editorial