PITTSBURGH -- This was a crowd that came to cheer. Opening Day fans at PNC Park couldn't hold their voices during the always-patriotic, sometimes solemn ceremonies that set the stage for the beginning of the Pirates' 126th season.With United States Military representatives presenting the colors around second base and introduced Pirates and Phillies lined up on their respective baselines, the observations began with a video montage of all the former Pirates who have passed away since the last Opening Day, which included Matty Alou, Jerry Lynch, Don Williams, Ted Beard and Cliff Chambers among others. The montage was followed by a request for a moment of silence. Instead, the fans almost immediately broke into a standing ovation of gratitude for those players who'd thrilled them in bygone years. Thinking they had heard the final verse of 11-year-old Shane Treloar's stunning rendition of "America the Beautiful," the crowd broke into appreciative applause. But Shane was only catching his breath, and continued on to an even louder ovation. Then members of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Army Field Band Ensemble harmonized through a touching rendition of the national anthem. Grateful recognition of the military and of veterans culminated with Pittsburgh-native Jeremy Feldbusch delivering the ceremonial first pitch. Feldbusch lost his sight during his tour of duty in Iraq, when the Army Ranger's unit came under fire and an explosive detonated near him. Feldbusch, representing the Wounded Warriors Project, still delivered a perfect strike to get a perfect day of baseball's perennial rebirth under way.
Host of Pirates experience first Opening Day
PITTSBURGH -- Every Opening Day stirs everyone's butterflies and emotions, because the first game of a season comes only once. But if it is your first Opening Day -- one can only imagine the buzz.Nearly one-third of the Pirates were experiencing their very first big league Opening Day: infielders Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro; outfielder Alex Presley, pitchers Jared Hughes and Tony Watson; catcher Michael McKenry and first baseman Matt Hague. Hague is the only one among them who was also digesting his very first day in a Major League uniform. "Right now, I'm just trying to bottle my emotions," Hague said on the field, between batting-practice turns. Hague had little luck with keeping his emotions in check Wednesday night while phoning his parents with the news that he'd made the club. "My mom was crying," he said. "My dad was excited and happy." Hague's folks, Washington state residents, will soon get their first in-person look at their big league son on the Pirates' upcoming West Coast trip. Hague was not in Thursday's Opening Day lineup against Roy Halladay, but could be in there on Saturday as the Phillies start a left-hander (Cliff Lee). Would it make a difference to him whether his first big league at-bat came off the bench, or as a starter? "No. Whatever happens, I'll just try to be ready and give a good at-bat," he said.
Not only was A.J. Burnett indeed on hand and in uniform for Opening Day festivities, he led off the Pirates' pregame introductions and was greeted by one of the loudest roars from fans. Burnett made a quick departure afterwards: He's making a rehab start on Friday for Class A Bradenton. Opening a season at home is not to be taken for granted by the Pirates, or by their fans. In opening their 126th season, the Bucs did so at home for only the 29th time (and fell to 15-14 in those games). Including his prior meetings with them in Interleague Play, Erik Bedard had a string of 21 consecutive shutout innings against the Phillies until they broke through in the seventh inning. Right-hander Juan Cruz has shed the "outsider" No. 77 he wore in Spring Training for No. 37, now that he's a member in good standing of the Bucs bullpen. Coach Nick Leyva, who left the club on Tuesday to attend to a personal matter, is expected back in his third-base coaching box for Saturday's game. In his absence, Luis Silverio moved across the diamond, with Mark Strittmatter taking over to coach at first.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.