Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Boys of Summer ready to rock

MLB's first full slate of games underway today

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After a brutal winter of arctic blasts and blustery snowstorms, baseball is ready to heat up today with its first full slate of games this season.

David Ortiz and the World Series champion Boston Red Sox begin their title defence in Baltimore against home-run king Chris Davis and the AL East rival Baltimore Orioles. Robinson Cano makes his Seattle Mariners debut, looking to live up to a huge contract -- just like Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

Behind the scenes, umpires at all six replay stations in New York will be at the ready for the first time in baseball history.

"We recognize fully that last year is behind us, and everyone is looking forward to (today) and beyond," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.

The start of Derek Jeter's retirement tour will wait one more day. The New York Yankees, with baseball's oldest roster, will face the youngest on Tuesday night in Houston.

By the time Detroit's Justin Verlander throws a pitch at 12:08 p.m. in the first of 13 games today, the Dodgers will already have played openers on two continents and put $215-million ace Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list.

Los Angeles swept a pair Down Under from the Diamondbacks on March 22-23, with Kershaw winning the first regular-season major league game in Australia before an upper back muscle acted up. The Dodgers then played at San Diego in the North American opener Sunday night.

Still, ballparks around country will be buzzing with optimistic fans and, other than in Oakland, sunny skies and seasonably warm temperatures are expected to provide a wonderful backdrop -- what a relief! -- for the day's festivities.

"Should be a pretty good day for a ball game," said Richard Bann, a meteorologist at the Weather Prediction Center.

The Pittsburgh Pirates certainly will be celebrating their first winning season and trip to the playoffs since 1992, and they'll have help handing out some hardware from two key members of that team: Barry Bonds and Jim Leyland.

Bonds, the '92 NL MVP, will be on hand to honour 2013 MVP Andrew McCutcheon. The recently retired Leyland, a two-time Manager of the Year with Pittsburgh, is going to present Clint Hurdle with his Manager of the Year award for guiding the Pirates to a 94-68 record and wild-card berth.

The son of Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, who died in February, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Kiner will be honoured in New York, too, where the Mets host Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals, a World Series favourite once again. Dillon Gee will make his first Opening Day start after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio throws out the first pitch.

In Texas, Tanner Scheppers, a converted setup man, will be the first pitcher to make his first major league start in a season opener since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 for the Dodgers. Scheppers will have new slugger Prince Fielder at first base when the Rangers host Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies in an interleague game.

Scheppers got the nod because major league strikeout leader Yu Darvish is on the disabled list with a sore neck.

Atlanta's Kris Medlen, Oakland's Jarrod Parker and Arizona's Patrick Corbin are out, too. While Darvish may miss only one start, Medlen, Parker and Corbin are out for the season after having Tommy John surgery.

One pitcher who escaped serious injury is Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. He's sidelined at least a month more after being hit in the forehead by a line drive during spring training.

Not only will Cincinnati be without Chapman when it opens against NL Central rival St. Louis for just the second time in 20 years, the Reds have eight players on the DL -- a Major-League high heading into the season.

The Milwaukee Brewers get back star slugger Ryan Braun for their home opener against the Braves. Braun is returning from a 65-game drug suspension.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2014 C7

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