Patriotic festivities set for Opening Day

Patriotic festivities set for Opening Day

Opening Day.

Perhaps no other red-letter day on the calendar unifies the nation as much as the dawn of a new baseball season. Dreams are reborn. The aroma of hot dogs fills the air. Winter is laid to rest.

The thread that will weave through the festivities planned by the 15 hosting clubs is patriotism. Expressions of gratitude and respect for the military fighting the good fight in Iraq and Afghanistan will dominate pregame activities around the country.

The defending World Series champion Phillies will pull the covers off the new season with the national opener on Sunday night, with the help of the Braves.

After all, fans entering Citizens Bank Park receive large replicas of the 2008 World Series champion pennant that will wave in the park all season, members of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Parachute team will descend on the field with the first-pitch balls.

Also, astronaut Chris Ferguson will present Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel with the Phillies jersey he wore in space last November aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor on his way to the International Space Station.

On Monday, 13 other home openers will unfold under similar pomp. On the program, around two countries:

• In Texas, where the Rangers will host the Indians, former president and Rangers managing general partner (1989-94) George W. Bush will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Then part of the former Commander in Chief's charges, the band of the United States Army 4th Infantry Division, whose members recently returned from a 15-month hitch in Iraq, will perform the anthem.

Members of the Fort Hood-based division also will unfurl the 30,000-square-foot flag during a military flyover.

• In Minneapolis, where the Twins will host the Mariners in the final Metrodome opener, a salute to Carl Pohlad, who died on Jan. 5, will set the mood. The three sons of the late club owner -- Jim, Bob, and Bill -- will throw out ceremonial first pitches.

Those ceremonies will kick off the Twins' tribute to Pohlad by wearing patches that read "Carl" throughout a 2009 season that has been dedicated in his memory.

• In San Diego, where the Dodgers will visit, the Padres will launch the season-long celebration of the franchise's 40th anniversary.

First pitches will be delivered by four former players representing different generations of Padres: "Downtown" Ollie Brown (1969-72), the first player selected during the Padres expansion draft, from the Giants; Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn (1982-2001); 1976 National League Cy Young Award winner Randy Jones (1973-80); and Dave Winfield (1973-80), who launched his Hall of Fame career in San Diego and was the first Padres player elected for an All-Star Game start, in 1979.

• In Houston, the Astros will observe a shorter anniversary prior to engaging the Cubs: To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Minute Maid Park, first pitches will be delivered by three season-ticket holders to Astros greats Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman.

The national anthem will be an encore for the guy who sang the park's first anthem, Lyle Lovett, a Houston native.

Count on the dome being open: There will be a flyover by four AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters from Fort Hood, with each aircraft and its crew recent returnees from 15 months of combat flight missions over Baghdad.

• In St. Louis, before the Cardinals host the Pirates, a different kind of tradition will be observed.

Again, players and staff will ride around the warning track in convertibles, introducing the fans to their new team. There will be plenty of Cardinals Hall of Famers to rekindle the city's love affair with its all-time greats.

And, of course, the Clydesdales will trot around to the tune of "Here Comes the King."

• Cincinnati, which will open its 120th NL season against the Mets, also will honor a timeworn custom.

The day will begin with the 90th Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, led by Grand Marshal Frank Robinson.

The Reds then will honor members of the Armed Forces wounded in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Otherwise, fostering civic pride, the ceremonies will fete the University of Cincinnati football team, the 2008 champs of the Big East. Team members will unfurl the giant U.S. flag, after which coach Brian Kelly will deliver to the mound the official game ball with which Reds starter Aaron Harang will make his opening pitch.

•: In Anaheim, where the Angels begin defense of their AL West title against top challenger Oakland, pregame festivities will be loudly highlighted by the flyover of two F-18s from Lemoore Naval Air Station base VFA 94 near Fresno, Calif., piloted by Lt. Rod Miranda and Lt. Brett Crozier.

• In Phoenix, the Diamondbacks' opener against the Rockies will star representatives of nearby Luke Air Force Base.

In the air, four F-16s will perform a flyover. And on the Chase Field turf, an honor guard from Luke Air Force Base will present the colors while Project Challenge volunteers unveil a 60-by-30-foot American flag in the outfield.

• In Boston, where the Red Sox will renew hostilities with AL champ Tampa Bay, the incomparable Boston Pops Orchestra will command the seventh-inning stretch with renderings of "God Bless America" and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" -- two tracks from its "The Red Sox Album," which will be released on Monday in conjunction with the opener.

Prior to that, in perhaps an unprecedented performance, the U.S. national anthem will have been sung by a Brit -- multiple Grammy winner Seal.

• In Toronto, prior to the Blue Jays' game against the Tigers, the renowned Canadian Tenors will perform both the Canadian and American national anthems.

The Jays will join their American allies in a military honor. The colors will be presented by Canadian and American soldiers from the 22nd Wing of the Canadian Forces Base of North Bay, better known as Canadian Air Defence Sector, which provides surveillance, identification, control and warning for the aerospace defense of Canada and North America as part of NORAD.

• In Miami, where the Marlins will entertain the Nationals, a flyover by four U.S. Air Force F-16 aircrafts will set the scene.

First-pitch honors will go to Marlins fan Sean A. Romero, the 12-year-old son of Air Force Reserve Senior Master Sergeant Antonio Romero, currently at the Balad Air Base in Iraq.

Then the anthem will be performed by Chicago -- neither the Cubs nor the White Sox, but the legendary pop group.

• Finally, the openers' coda will be sounded Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco, where the Giants will host the Brewers. The G-Men will make up for their tardy bow by turning their entire opening series into a celebration.

In the opener of his personal "doubleheader," Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot of Flight 1549 who successfully landed the impaired plane safely on New York's Hudson River in January, will make the ceremonial first pitch.

Nine days later and on the other coast, Sullenberger will repeat the honors prior to the Yankees' home opener -- only a few miles away from where he made that dramatic and hailed splashdown.

Extending festivities, on Wednesday the Giants will honor 2008 Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, who will be joined on the field by Mike McCormick, who earned the same award with the Giants 41 years earlier.

And, in an interesting twist, on Thursday the Giants will hold AT&T Fan Appreciation Day, a prize-filled occasion usually held at the end of the season.

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.