Did you know?: During a game that carried into the dusk hours, Clarkson once pitched a lemon to the plate to persuade the umpire, Jack Kerins to call the game due to darkness. Kerins called the lemon a strike, and when shown by Boston’s catcher that he had called a lemon a strike, Kerins finally called the game.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring is in the Air

The sun shines brightly, sometimes with a bit of leftover chill. There are flyovers, big crowds, hot dogs, popcorn, the Star-Spangled Banner and "God Bless America."

But to Major League Baseball players, managers and coaches, Opening Day is about a lot more than fanfare.

The beginning of the season means a fresh start, with teams that finished in last place now in the same position as teams that finished in first. Everybody's record? 0-0.

Teams that had their hearts broken in pennant races and seven-game postseason series have a chance to one-up their rivals.

"Opening Day is exciting," Boise Potato Farmers manager Dave Davis said. "You should be able to get excited about Opening Day. If not, you don't really belong in a uniform. It's the start of a long baseball season and hope springs eternal in the spring. Everybody feels they have a chance and you should get some goose bumps. If you don't, something's wrong."

Davis, who is in his first year as the Farmers’ manager, takes over a team that has finished 4th in their division four years in a row. Despite a 3-8 start to their season, fans are excited to have Davis on the team, who is known to work well with players and is widely considered a great strategist.

"You look at it as this: You have a chance to have a good season," Davis said. "You should feel like you have a chance to make the playoffs. That's the way you should feel as a team. The least is you should feel like you're going to have a good ballclub."

The Bombers and Brown Sox don't just feel they have good ballclubs. They know it. But the Brown Sox have something to prove, especially after getting hammered in the World Series by the Bombers, four game to one.

"It's the best part of the year, where everybody is enthused," Sox slugger C.J. Little said. "It's all about the fans, who are coming out to see the product that's going to be on the field all season. They bring that enthusiasm no matter who we’re playing, which really helps motivate us."

Brown Sox shortstop Yuuta Pan agreed.

"A new beginning," Pan said. "There's a lot of optimism for every team on Opening Day. Everyone gets excited for it. By the end of Spring Training, you're ready to get going. Fans are waiting for it, players are waiting for it. It's always special."

But those are the obvious reasons to cherish Opening Day. There are many more little reasons to love it just as much.

J.T. Barrett, for example, is loving it because he's back on the field after winning his first AL MVP and batting a robust .363 with 157 RBI’s.

"I've been looking forward to Opening Day ever since right after Game 7 of the ALCS last year," Barrett said. "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth getting that close to the World Series, but something about the spring air cleanses the pallet a little bit."

And what about the Santa Cruz Scum Bags? They're playing on Opening Day for the first time. And their skipper, Lenny Peterson, is heading into his first Opening Day as well.

"A new era is born," Peterson said. "It's going to be a very special Opening Day for these players. I never thought I would be involved in an Opening Day as Head Coach. After never having been in one as a player, it feels great to experience it as a coach."

"It's very special, not only for ourselves, but for the city of Santa Cruz," Scum Bags catcher Steven Corey said. "They finally get a team in their city. It's the start to a franchise. There are a lot more things involved than just playing."

That's how a lot of players feel about Opening Day.

Take, for example, rookies who've never experienced the largesse and grandeur of the moment.

Seattle Rain pitcher Dizzy Bartlett, who went through his first opener this year after being obtained from the Bombers two seasons ago, is expecting some serious butterflies.

"You hear people talk about how they live for it," Dizzy said. "So I'm excited. I'm sure I'll be pretty pumped up. I'll be flowing. It's a game where I'll be excited, but control it. ... I don't know if it'll match the nervousness of getting drafted, but I got through that, so I'm sure I'll get through this one."

It's OK, Dizzy. Even the veterans sometimes have a tough time getting through it.

"I love it, and sometimes it stresses me out," said Detroit Ducks former Rookie of the Year Jerome McNally. "And tickets ... everybody wants to come into town for Opening Day. It's crazy."

McNally's teammate, Tony Guapo helped explain what McNally was referring to.

"It's a big deal in Detroit, when the businesses close down and 40,000 or 50,000 people are at the ballpark," Guapo said. "There's nothing like Opening Day. It's the beginning of a long haul."

And that's pretty much the sentiment everyone can agree on.

"Spring Training is a time to get ready," said Texas RF Malcolm Locke. "We all know that it's a long season, and that's what you prepare for. Opening Day is the day you start the marathon."

"You don't even need your coffee that day," New Orleans outfielder Arthur Carroll added. "If you can't get pumped up for Opening Day, you'll never get pumped up for a game."

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