Opener special for several young Bucs
Nearly one-third of roster experiencing event for first time
ST. LOUIS -- There's a certain allure to Opening Day, even for baseball's most seasoned veterans. But for nearly one-third of the Pirates' team, Monday provided a first-time experience.
The pomp and circumstance that highlights Opening Day -- which included a visit from the Clydesdale horses and a number of Cardinals Hall of Famers at Busch Stadium before the start of Monday's game -- was enjoyed for the first time by eight of the players on the club's 25-man roster.
Until Monday, Luis Cruz, Jesse Chavez, Donnie Veal, Sean Burnett, Jason Jaramillo, Craig Hansen, Jeff Karstens and Andy LaRoche had never experienced Opening Day anywhere but in the Minor Leagues.
"I was talking to Jack [Wilson] and Nate [McLouth] about this being Opening Day," Cruz said, hours before first pitch. "They said that sometimes they don't feel it anymore because they've been around. But for me, basically, this is what I have been waiting for my whole career."
Cruz compared the butterflies he said he felt on Monday to those that he dealt with last September when he made his Major League debut. He isn't unique in the fact that he has previous big league experience despite not having been on an Opening Day roster. In fact, only Veal and Jaramillo have yet to make their Major League debuts.
"It's going to mean a great deal to me," Jaramillo said of stepping on the field for the pregame ceremonies. "It's been a long journey. To me, it seems like it's been my whole life."
And added Veal, the Pirates' Rule 5 Draft pick who has never played above the Double-A level: "I think when I go out there and the stadium is all packed and I see all the people, that's when it will sink in."
Of this group of eight, only LaRoche was guaranteed of actually playing in the season's official opener. He started at third base and hit sixth in the lineup after having recovered from salmonella.
Chavez, Hansen and Burnett all spent time in the Pirates' bullpen last season after beginning their respective seasons in Triple-A. But no one's situation may be as unique as Burnett. Consider the fact that the lefty made his Major League debut back in 2004, yet had never experienced an Opening Day with the Pirates until now.
That anomaly was of course the result of an arm injury, the subsequent years of rest and rehab and then a business-based decision that kept Burnett off the Opening Day roster last season. Maybe, then, it's not so hard to understand why this day meant so much to Burnett.
"It's something special to be called up during the year, but to make the Opening Day roster ... it's neat to be on the team and say that you're part of the 25 guys going north," Burnett said.
The players held a meeting on Sunday to emphasize just that -- that regardless of whether this is someone's first Opening Day experience or ninth in a row (as it is for Wilson), that there is an honor associated with taking the field for Game 1.
"We are the best 25 guys," Cruz said. "We are a team. And it feels great to be a part of the team."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.