Tue, Apr 01, 2003 - Page 20 News List

New and old names get into swing of new season

OPENING ENGAGEMENT The most quintessential of US games got off to a new start, with a host of fresh talent seeking to impress and old favorites taking a shot at glory

AP , NEW YORK

Anaheim Angels players, including world series Game 7 winning pitcher Troy Percival, fourth left, react as four fighter aircraft fly overhead before the MLB season opener against the Texas Rangers in Anaheim, California, on Sunday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Sammy Sosa took a shot at history, Hideki Matsui made his major leagues debut and most fans get their first look at Great American Ball Park as baseball got into full swing yesterday.

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux were to be on the mound and Barry Bonds was in the batter's box.

The season started Sunday night where it ended last year, in Anaheim, with the World Series champion Angels hosting the Texas Rangers. Game 7 winner John Lackey threw the first pitch, a ball low to Doug Glanville.

Along with all the usual trappings of opening day -- bunting, banners and even a former president throwing out the first pitch -- there's a different mood at many ballparks. Baseball starts against the backdrop of war, with American troops in Iraq.

``I can't explain how I feel,'' New York Mets star Mike Piazza said. ``You do get drained. It's kind of like after 9-11, you're watching TV and you're thinking about our people over there.''

Tom Glavine, Jim Thome and Robert Fick were to be among the All-Stars playing for the first time in new places, and managers Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella and Felipe Alou were to debut in different dugouts.

Sosa showed up in style -- in a black stretch limousine -- at Shea Stadium for the Chicago Cubs' practice on Sunday.

Yesterday, he was to try to become the 18th player to hit 500 home runs when he stepped up against Glavine and the New York Mets. Chances are he'll be bundled up as the weather forecast calls for temperatures just above freezing.

At Camden Yards, Baltimore and Cleveland had their workouts Sunday called off because of snow. It's been a tough spring for the Orioles, who dealt with the death of pitching prospect Steve Bechler in spring training.

``You put it in its proper place and go on about what you've got to do. Then you revisit it when you want to,'' Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said.

Matsui attracted plenty of attention before playing his first game since leaving Tokyo. The Blue Jays took out an advertisement in Sunday newspapers in Toronto urging fans -- in English and Japanese -- to come out and boo the New York Yankees' new slugger.

``I thought it was tasteless, especially in the climate of what's going on in the world today,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said. ``I understand fun and games, but I thought it was just too much.''

The ad was taped up to a door in the Yankees' clubhouse as they arrived to work out a day before the opener. Roger Clemens will tie the AL record with his 13th opening-day start, matching Walter Johnson and Jack Morris.

Matsui said he wasn't offended by the ad. But he admitted he'd not gotten that treatment in Japan, where fans hardly ever boo.

``I don't have anything special to say,'' he said through an interpreter. ``I'm a little happy that the fans are aware of my name.''

And here's another name for fans to get used to -- Great American Ball Park, the new stadium in Cincinnati.

Former President George Bush was to make the ceremonial first pitch before the Reds played Pittsburgh. ``This will be my sixth opening day, and we've only won one,'' said second baseman Aaron Boone.

``There's always so much hype with opening day here in Cincinnati. It's such a crazy day, such a fun day, but we always end up losing.''

Atlanta and its revamped roster play host to Montreal. Maddux will start for the Braves, who lost Glavine and Kevin Millwood from their rotation but added Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz and Paul Byrd.

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