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Hinske makes quick impact in Rays' season opener

BALTIMORE — Eric Hinske didn't know where he'd be on opening day.

The six-year major-league veteran came to Rays camp on a minor-league contract just hoping he'd get the chance to compete for a job. He made the team, he made the starting lineup and he made the most of the opportunity, hitting a fourth-inning home run Monday in the 6-2 win over the Orioles.

"If you're not ready for opening day, there's something wrong with you," he said.

"I was a little nervous when it started, a new team and opening day, all the jitters were there. But after the first at-bat (a double-play grounder), I just said, 'Calm down, get a pitch to hit,' and I ended up getting a pretty good pitch out over the plate, fastball, and put a good swing on it. It's nice to hit a home run and help the team win on the first day."

• • •

For eight Rays, it was their first major-league opening day: Willy Aybar, Matt Garza, Nathan Haynes, Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Elliot Johnson, Shawn Riggans and Andy Sonnanstine.

For Johnson, it was also his first major-league game. And first major-league road trip, what with the chartered jet and plush hotel, where the bellmen deliver the luggage to the rooms.

"I figured that one out," Johnson said. "Everyone's been nice, a lot of guys are helping me out, making sure I know all that stuff. And they're making sure I got them beers on the plane and on the bus. But everyone's been taking care of me. There's a lot of stuff to take in."

• • •

There are only three members of the organization who have been at all 11 openers (including the 2004 series in Japan): communications vice president Rick Vaughn, team travel director Jeff Ziegler and video coordinator Chris Fernandez.

• • •

It was veteran Troy Percival's first opening day since 2005 — having been hurt in 2006 and retired in 2007 — and he was the first one to the ballpark, walking in around 9:30 Monday morning, just 5½ hours before first pitch.

Was he that excited?

Actually, he was sick, hit hard Sunday by a cold. "I woke up in a pool of sweat," he said.

Plus, Percival said, he wasn't that early. "C.C. (Carl Crawford) was right behind me, 10-15 minutes, and some other guys came in quick," Percival said. "It's good, we've got some early birds."

Hinske makes quick impact in Rays' season opener 03/31/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 2:59pm]
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