Opening Day full of firsts for Bonifacio

Opening Day full of firsts for Bonifacio

MIAMI -- When the Marlins went into this season wanting to be a more speed-oriented club, putting Emilio Bonifacio in the starting lineup -- even if he was playing out of position -- was a big part of that.

And it definitely worked on Opening Day.

During a 12-6 win over the Nationals on Monday, Bonifacio went 4-for-5 with four runs scored, three stolen bases, two RBIs and even an inside-the-park home run.

A lot of positives come with winning on Opening Day, and the Marlins definitely had their share -- like a 30,000-plus rowdy crowd, a 12-hit performance, a grand slam by franchise player Hanley Ramirez, three innings of one-run ball by the bullpen and, best of all, a 1-0 start to the season.

But Bonifacio outshined everything.

"I'm just so glad he's on our team," said Cody Ross, who teamed up with Dan Uggla to urge Bonifacio to take his curtain call after the inside-the-parker. "He makes so much stuff happen. He's a great kid, he listens, he's smart and he's just a lot of fun to watch. He's going to be a huge contributor to this team, and it's nice to have him on it."

Maybe surprising, too.

The 23-year-old switch-hitter, a natural second baseman, came to the Marlins in the deal that sent Scott Olsen -- Tuesday's starter -- and Josh Willingham to the Nationals in November. Going into Spring Training, however, the battle for a starting corner-infield job alongside Jorge Cantu seemed to be coming down to Dallas McPherson and Gaby Sanchez.

But on March 26, after a Spring Training game against the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Bonifacio was on his way to catch the bus when he was called into the clubhouse by owner Jeffrey Loria, who congratulated him on making the team.

"I tried to stay calm, but in the moment, I felt very emotional," said Bonifacio, who did, however, commit an error on a hard-hit grounder on Monday. "I felt really happy, and I called home [to the Dominican Republic]."

That led to Monday, when Bonifacio started his first Opening Day -- leading off and playing third base -- hit his first career home run, received his first curtain call, had his first postgame press conference with about a dozen reporters flocked around him, and even found out who Carl Yastrzemski is, among other things, the last player to hit an inside-the-park home run on Opening Day, back on April 10, 1968, in Detroit.

"I was just thinking about getting to third, and when I saw that [Nationals center fielder Lastings Milledge] dove, I felt like I had a chance," Bonifacio said about the fourth-inning homer.

Bonifacio is obviously not going to have a stat line like Monday's every game. But his emergence as a leadoff hitter gives the Marlins yet another speedster in the lineup, as well as the luxury of dropping budding prospect Cameron Maybin to the No. 8 spot most of the time.

"It's fun because you're not going to get into these type of ballgames where it's softball style," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You have to be able to create some runs with that speed. That speed gets on base, and now you have a little hit-and-run, you have a little stolen base, you can manufacture some runs."

The Marlins are definitely a lot more speed-oriented this year, and Bonifacio's emergence in the starting lineup has a lot to do with that.

On Tuesday, with another left-hander going for the Nationals and a quick turnaround to Wednesday's afternoon game, Ronny Paulino will get the start behind the plate, setting up the likely scenario of having the three speedsters -- Bonifacio, Maybin and Ramirez -- as the top three hitters in the lineup.

Said Ross with a grin: "That's going to be fun."

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.