AP Baseball Writer
No team lost more games in spring training than the champion San Francisco Giants, hardly any pitcher struggled more than World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner.
So what? Throw out those stats – it’s time to play ball for real.
Come Monday, Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound, Mike Trout and David Ortiz will be at the plate, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel will be with San Diego after Atlanta traded him Sunday.
In all, 28 teams in action, all hoping to make the Final Ten in October.
“If you can play every day like opening day and get yourself up like you do for opening day, you’re probably going to have a good year,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose club visits Arizona.
“That’s how we like to play every game, that it’s the most important game of the year. Opening day is that day. It’s an important game. It probably helps set the tone a little bit,” he said.
The 2015 big league season started Sunday night at renovated Wrigley Field, where manager Joe Maddon and his new-look Chicago Cubs lost to St. Louis 3-0. Adam Wainwright got the win, and Jason Heyward doubled off Jon Lester for the first hit of the year.
Even before Paul Molitor becomes the latest Hall of Famer to try managing or Ortiz tries to stick in the batter’s box under Major League Baseball’s new pace of play rules, some stars had already emerged.
David Mellor, Jason Griffeth, Derek Gauger and Jedi Saverse, among them.
Never heard of ‘em? They’re the full-time groundskeepers at Fenway Park and have gotten the diamond ready despite the snowiest winter in Boston since the city began keeping such records.
“I was never worried about getting ready for opening day,” said Mellor, director of grounds for the Red Sox. “The field is in great shape. It is looking better with each passing day.”
Across the Northeast and Midwest, ballparks were battered by a harsh winter. Blizzards, below-zero temperatures, sheets of ice and wicked winds made preparations even tougher.
Chalk this up to baseball’s good fortune: In Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, Kansas City and other places that endured a long winter, it’s forecast to be clear enough and in the 60s and 70s on opening day.
Quite a contrast from a couple of months ago.
At Fenway, up to 40 inches of snow blanketed the field at one point. Mellor and his crew used a half-ton of black sand – like ground-up tires, it absorbs heat and helps the melting process – to clear the crush. Boston was hit with more than 9 feet overall.
“When we had all the snow, I thought I’m glad we aren’t opening at home,” Mellor said. “But because of all the hard work of my co-workers, we are actually ready to play now.”
Red Sox newcomers Hanley Ramirez and Sandoval play Monday at Philadelphia. The Fenway home opener is April 13 against Washington.
Washington outfielder Bryce Harper was pleasantly surprised when he took his position at Nationals Park on Saturday for an exhibition vs. the New York Yankees.
The NHL held the Winter Classic at the ballpark on Jan. 1, and Washington was enveloped by frosty conditions for quite a while.
“It feels fine. I thought it was great,” Harper said. “Someone was telling me that when the NHL does it, they actually have to re-do the whole field or something like that. So that was brand-new grass out there. It was beautiful. It played great.”
New ace Max Scherzer, Harper and the Nationals host the New York Mets on Monday.
Alex Rodriguez, back from a season-long drug suspension, Tanaka and the Yankees will be home to play Toronto. Pitcher Adam Warren was eager to see how well the grounds crew had done at Yankee Stadium, especially since the city’s new Major League Soccer team recently played on the grass.
“I know they’ve been working hard. The kind of weather that I’ve been hearing that New York has been having, for them to get it in great shape is pretty remarkable,” Warren said Sunday after a Yankees minor league intrasquad game in Tampa, Florida.
“I’ll definitely have to give someone a pat on the back for getting the stadium ready, the big league field ready to go after all that snow,” he said.