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Opening Day well worth the wait

Opening Day well worth the wait

Opening Day 2009 began with the time-honored tradition of Cincinnati's Findlay Market Parade, the 90th edition a little cold and a little damp, but red and white all over, same as it ever was.

It ended when Brian Fuentes -- one of several closers with new addresses this season -- claimed his first save for the Angels in a shutout win over the A's on a pleasant April evening on the West Coast.

In between, well, let's just say it was all worth the wait of 190 days. Or, put another way: 4,560 hours. Or, put yet another way: 273,600 seconds.

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Not that anyone's counting, but that's how long it had been since the true power of the Major League Baseball schedule had been unleashed, featuring games from coast to coast and border to border. It was Sept. 28, 2008, that we last saw such a slate, so Monday's games were a sight for sore eyes.

Baseball's big day didn't disappoint, despite a couple of weather-related postponements, with saves and homers taking center stage on the first full day of play following Sunday night's lid-lifter between the Braves and Phillies.

The highlights from Monday were so sharp, so pure, they need little description:

Junior.

K-Rod.

Double-switch.

CC-L.

And of course ...

Bonifacio!

"Junior" would be Ken Griffey Jr., who hit a home run in his first game back with the Mariners, his 612th overall, tying him with Frank Robinson -- who earlier served as grand marshall for the Findlay Market Parade -- for the top spot in the category of Opening Day homers, with eight.

"K-Rod" would be Francisco Rodriguez, who mowed through the Reds for his first save with the Mets with a strikeout of Ramon Hernandez to wrap up what could not have been much more to the script for the Mets and their fans. Johan Santana took a shutout into the sixth, and Sean Green, J.J. Putz and K-Rod did the rest in a 2-1 victory. "Of course I like that we won," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "And I really liked the way we won."

"Double-switch" had nothing to do with replacing the pitcher in the lineup, but everything to do with the anomaly that came off the bats of Arizona's Tony Clark and Felipe Lopez. The switch-hitters became the first duo from the same team to each hit homers from both sides of the plate on Opening Day, and the first since Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams did it for the Yankees on April 23, 2000.

"CC" would be CC Sabathia. The "L" would be for the loss he suffered in his much-anticipated debut with the Yankees, who signed him for $161 million over seven years this offseason. Obviously, they were hoping for more than Monday's performance of six runs on eight hits, five walks and two wild pitches in 4 1/3 innings. "It was just one of those days, a bad day," CC would say afterward.

But the star of the day? That can be summed up in that one word:

Bonifacio!

As in, Emilio Bonifacio. As in, what an amazing Opening Day performance Emilio Bonifacio put on Monday.

The 23-year-old rookie got the Marlins off to a fast start -- literally -- by going 4-for-4 with three steals and an inside-the-park home run. He became the first player to hit an inside-the-park homer on Opening Day since Carl Yastrzemski, of all people, pulled it off April 10, 1968.

"He's the fastest guy I've ever seen in my life," Hanley Ramirez, a 50-plus steals guy himself, said of Bonifacio.

With Bonifacio leading off, followed by Cameron Maybin and burgeoning superstar Ramirez, the Marlins could know a lot about fast starts by the time this season is over.

Said Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez: "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."

Monday was also a day when reigning AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee was roughed up by the Rangers, when Manny Ramirez walked but didn't get a hit in a Dodgers win in San Diego, and when 12 runs was more than enough for Roy Halladay to put the Blue Jays past the Tigers.

In some way, Opening Day 2009 was special for everyone, even the ones who'd like to forget it.

It could be your first, like it was for the Reds' Jay Bruce. He missed out on the fun last year because he didn't get called up until May, and he found out that, yes, Opening Day indeed does come with a parade -- in Cincinnati, at least.

"Cincinnati is one of the greatest traditions as far as baseball," said Bruce. "For us to be a part of that tradition now is pretty special."

Or you could be like Junior, rediscovering that wide-eyed youth Bruce exudes with a little jog around the bases in a Mariners uniform once again, this time in his 21st season.

Leave it to the most powerful smile in baseball to put it all in the perfect light.

"This was fun," he said. "If you don't enjoy baseball, you shouldn't play. I enjoy baseball and I can't think of anything I would rather be doing. I wish I could have this much fun every day."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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