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Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Updated: April 9, 12:11 PM ET
Welcome back, baseball!

By Jim Caple
Page 2

Ahhh, Opening Day. When even the Pirates can claim a share of first place and all fans can feel good about their teams. Unless, of course, your team's ace has worse mechanics than President Obama. But whether the president is tossing out the first pitch (as he did in Washington) or Neil Diamond is singing "Sweet Caroline" (as he did in person at Fenway), good times never seem so good as on Opening Day.

Where it began
I can't begin to knowing
But then I know it's growing strong

Off Base

In his first at-bat as a Yankee, Curtis Granderson hit the first pitch Josh Beckett threw to him for a home run. As my friend Scooter pointed out, though, what was the headline in the next day's New York Post? "Granderson fails to get big hit in first Yankees test." That was in reference to Granderson's game-ending groundout with a runner on first after the Yankees pitchers had turned a 5-1 lead into a 9-7 deficit. Welcome to New York, Curtis. Be sure not to take your shirt off in Central Park.

Of course, three guys who know the way New York works are Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, who began their 16th season together. That not only is the most consecutive seasons for a trio of teammates in major league history, it's more than any trio in NFL, NBA or NHL history. When the three first shared a New York clubhouse in 1995, the Yankees hadn't reached the postseason in 14 years. You know, what everyone else refers to as the good old days.

Was in the spring
then spring became the summer
Who'd have believed you'd come along?

Could a big league debut go any better than it did for Jason Heyward? The Atlanta rookie caught the ceremonial first pitch from Hank Aaron, then hit a three-run homer on his first swing in the game. About the only more dramatic entrance he could have made was walking out of a cornfield while carrying a bat named Wonderboy in his bassoon case and wearing one of Annie Savoy's garter belts.

Ichiro made his major league debut nine years ago, and back then, the question was whether a Japanese position player could even play in the majors. He answered that question by winning the MVP, and after nine consecutive 200-hit, .300, All-Star, Gold Glove seasons, Ichiro officially fulfilled the Hall of Fame's minimum eligibility requirement of playing in at least 10 major league seasons when he stepped to the plate on Opening Day. Well, he also still needs to retire and wait five years, but other than that, there's a space on the wall waiting for him in Cooperstown.

And when I hurt
Hurting runs off my shoulder
How can I hurt when I'm holding you?

Toronto's Shaun Marcum is just happy to be back on a mound. He was 9-7 with a 3.86 ERA for the Blue Jays in 2008 when he underwent Tommy John surgery. He didn't pitch in the majors all of last year but was Toronto's opening day starter. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Vladimir Guerrero, playing his first game for the Rangers, singled with a runner on and one out. End of no-hitter. The next batter, Nelson Cruz, homered. End of shutout, end of lead. And after two more outs, end of the game for Marcum, who handed the ball over to the Toronto bullpen, which lost the game in extra innings. Baseball can be such a tease.

Hands, touching hands
Reaching out, touching me, touching you ...

So many opening day highlights. Having won the National League Most Valuable Player Award the past two seasons, Albert Pujols began his bid for a third consecutive MVP by homering in his first at-bat, homering again in the seventh inning and finishing the opener with four runs, four hits and three RBIs. Fresh off winning the Cy Young in each of his first two full seasons, Tim Lincecum got started on a third by winning the opener with seven scoreless innings. Roy Halladay gave up one run in seven innings to win his debut with the Phillies. Chicago's Mark Buehrle pitched seven scoreless innings to beat Cleveland 6-0. Ken Griffey Jr. began his 22nd season the same way he began his first, with a double and a walk in four plate appearances in Oakland the same night of the NCAA championship.

And finally, Matt Stairs pinch hit for the Padres in the eighth inning and thereby tied Deacon McGuire, Mike Morgan and Ron Villone for the major league record for most teams (12). His teams, in order: Expos, Red Sox, Athletics, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Royals, Rangers, Tigers, Blue Jays, Phillies and Padres (he also played in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons). Question: If Stairs gets traded to the Nationals, do they count as another team?

"What drives me is that I still enjoy the game. I haven't lost the desire," Stairs said during spring training. "I could have called it quits a few years ago when I became a bench player. But that's a role I accepted and I know I can still do well. I know one swing of a bat can change the outcome of the game."

Warm, touching warm
Reaching out, touching me, touching you ...

Good to have you back, Matt. You, too, Junior and Ichiro. Nice to meet you, Jason. Welcome back Derek, Jorge and Mo. Welcome back, "Sweet Caroline," "Cotton-Eye Joe" and "Louie Louie." Welcome back Vin, Jon and Dave. Welcome back, Philly Phanatic, Mr. Met and Rally Monkey. Welcome back, everyone. Oh, oh, oh -- welcome back, baseball.

BOX SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK

Lincecum walked into the Giants' clubhouse one day during spring training, pulling his French bulldog, Cy, on a leash. Or was it the other way around? Either way, you obviously gain some perks when you win two Cy Youngs. And Lincecum got to work on his third with this dazzling opening line against the Astros:

7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

DONNIE, YOU'RE OUT OF YOUR ELEMENT

• Here's something for Heyward to shoot for: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Frank Howard holds the record for most career home runs by a player who homered in his first game (382). Gary Gaetti holds the mark for most home runs by a player who homered in his first at-bat (360).

• If baseball wants to shorten the average length of games, just stop having the Red Sox and Yankees play each other. Sunday's opener lasted 3:46, which is hardly unusual. The Red Sox and Yankees have played each other 144 times since the start of the 2003 season and 119 of those games have lasted at least three hours, with 45 lasting at least 3:30 and 13 longer than four hours (including extra innings). The average length of a Boston-New York game since 2003 is about a half hour longer than all other games.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter at jimcaple.


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