From LaTroy Hawkins and David Wright to rookies, everyone has butterflies
LaTroy Hawkins wore No. 32. So when it came time to take his spot on the foul line that long-ago afternoon at Fenway Park, he stood next to the man wearing No. 34.
By then, Kirby Puckett needed no introduction. But on Opening Day, tradition dictates that every player's name be announced, whether they be future Hall of Famers or 23-year-old rookies.
In 1995, the first time Hawkins made an Opening Day roster, the Twins had the makings of a last-place team, and the recently ended strike and lockout had left fans bitter. Yet none of those things mattered when the moment came and Hawkins' name was announced over the stadium loudspeakers.
"Kirby's like, 'This is what it's all about. Welcome to the big leagues,' '' Hawkins said. "I'll never forget that: 'Welcome to the big leagues.' ''
When the Mets assemble on the foul line for introductions today at Citi Field, the 40-year-old Hawkins will be the oldest player on the field. But he never forgot the words of the late Hall of Famer, which is why he will feel the same nerves as the rest of his teammates.
"Whether it's your first Opening Day -- we have guys, a lot of guys, that this is their first Opening Day -- or guys like [Hawkins] that it's their 20th Opening Day or whatever, I think you still get those butterflies,'' said David Wright, who will make his debut as captain of the Mets. "You get that kind of nervous energy -- that excitement -- in a good way.''
The Mets begin the season as a team in transition. With a mix of veterans and unknowns, their roster seems less suited for gaining ground and more toward treading water. Nearly one-third of the Mets' 25-man roster had never made an Opening Day roster until Monday.
They include the likes of righthander Matt Harvey, the hard-throwing 24-year-old whom the Mets view as one of the keys to their long-term efforts to build a consistent contender. Also in the group are Jeurys Familia, Josh Edgin, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin and Jeremy Hefner, homegrown products who could play a role in assisting the turnaround.
But the first-timers also include a pair of longtime minor-leaguers.
Lefty reliever Scott Rice, 31, toiled for 14 years before getting his first big-league chance. Righthander Greg Burke, 30, joined the Padres as a call-up three years ago, though he made his first Opening Day roster only after he transformed himself into a submariner a year ago.
"It feels kind of brand new again,'' Burke said. "It's a little bit in perspective this time. I know what to expect and things like that. But it's still pretty cool, though. First Opening Day.''
Each of the Mets began preparations as the occasion neared. Familia, 23, one of the youngest members of the team, again reached out to Hawkins for advice on how to stay well past Opening Day.
Meanwhile, Wright planned to use Sunday's workout day to help those new to New York with simple logistics, such as where to park and which roads to take to the ballpark.
He hoped that even a little knowledge might help calm some nerves on the eve of Opening Day.
"You still kind of have that restless night the night before,'' Wright said. "You get those good butterflies. It's a good thing. You run out there, you hear your name called, it's a special day.''