04/02/2013 3:30 PM ET
Opener sparks nostalgia in Sternberg
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- Stu Sternberg briefly held court at Tropicana Field prior to Tuesday's season opener.
While Sternberg is the Rays' principal owner, foremost, he is a baseball fan. And, as such, Opening Day holds a special place in his heart.
"It's probably the one day that transcends the ownership of the team and speaks to me in childhood and everything else," Sternberg said. "The bunting -- you sort of remember where you've spent Opening Days. A couple of times, I missed school. So Opening Day is meaningful."
The predictions for where Sternberg's Rays might finish this season suggest that the club will enjoy a memorable 2013 campaign. Sternberg didn't mind admitting that he'd rather the team did not have such lofty expectations.
"Uneasy; very uneasy," answered Sternberg when asked about the forecasts for the Rays. "We play better without the expectations. I feel better without the expectations. And quite frankly, as we saw last year in our own division, you had a team that could have won 100 games win under 70, and another that could have won 70 beat us out for the playoffs. So great stuff."
As usual, Sternberg was queried about the latest on the club's bid for a new ballpark, and there wasn't much to report other than the fact that those trying to make something happen are continuing to work behind the scenes.
"I'm up for any progress that will happen at any time," Sternberg said.
Zimmer at heart of Rays' opening ceremony
ST. PETERSBURG -- Don Zimmer stole the show on Tuesday afternoon, when St. Petersburg's favorite adopted son threw out the first pitch prior to the Rays' season opener against the Orioles at Tropicana Field.
Zimmer, beginning his 10th season as a senior advisor for the Rays, was joined by his family -- wife Soot, son Tom, daughter-in-law Marian and grandsons Bo and Ron.
W: Hammel L: McGee SV: Johnson
Tom turned out to be the designated arm for the occasion, but that did little to diminish the occasion. With his father standing next to him, Tom threw a strike to star third baseman Evan Longoria, who had the entire Rays team standing behind him.
After the ball was delivered, all of the players, coaches and staff members gathered on the mound to enjoy a special moment with Zimmer.
"I've been so lucky," Zimmer said. "You know, Lou Gehrig said, 'I'm the luckiest man in the world.' Well, if he's the luckiest man in the world, I'm the second luckiest."
When asked how special Tuesday was for him, Zimmer replied, "Very."
"Especially [with] the shape I'm in," said Zimmer, who has struggled with his health over the past couple of years. "It's unbelievable that I'm going for the 65th year. The Rays have been good to me."
The prelude to the Opening Day ceremonies began when ace lefty David Price left the home dugout and made his way down the right-field line, stopping to shake hands with security personnel en route to the bullpen to warm up for his start.
Shortly thereafter, the Orioles were introduced in advance of the home team. Up and down the line, the Rays enjoyed rousing applause from the sellout crowd. Closer Fernando Rodney, pitching coach Jim Hickey, manager Joe Maddon and Longoria were easily the recipients of the loudest ovations -- until Price, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, was introduced.
Tampa Bay-area saxophonist B.K. Jackson, who is always a popular Tropicana Field performer, then played the national anthem before Zimmer and Co. went to the mound.
Price threw the game's first pitch promptly at 3:13 p.m. ET, delivering a strike to Orioles leadoff man Nick Markakis and the Rays' 2013 season was under way.
Niemann takes open mind to bullpen role
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jeff Niemann, who competed in Spring Training for the No. 5 spot in the Rays' rotation and lost out to Roberto Hernandez, will begin the season in Tampa Bay's bullpen.
The 6-foot-9 right-hander said he doesn't know exactly how he'll be used just yet.
"I don't think that's really come up in conversation," Niemann said. "But we're going down there and treating it like anything else. I've been down there before, so it's not going to be a complete surprise. We're just going down there, getting ourselves ready to pitch every day.
"Looking at the personnel, I would think I'm the long guy, so let's hope I'm not in there for a while."
Many starters relegated to the bullpen have to learn how to get loose in a hurry, as opposed to having the luxury of a prolonged warmup afforded to starting pitchers. Niemann didn't seem too worried about getting acclimated to the bullpen.
"I think they're going to give me adequate time to warm up," Niemann said. "It's just going to be one of those things -- trial and error at first. We'll just see exactly where we need to be and how far we need to go. 'At what point during the day to we need to get warmed up?' and all that kind of stuff.
"So right now, we're just kind of taking it as it comes and getting ready to pitch like it was our day to pitch anyway. That's the best we can do right now, and we'll try and figure it out as we go along."
Scott expects stint on DL to be brief
ST. PETERSBURG -- Luke Scott sounded optimistic when discussing his possible return from the disabled list.
Scott was placed on the DL with a strained right calf on Sunday, retroactive to March 24, which means the earliest he can return is next Monday.
Currently, Scott is shut down from most activities. That should change within a few days, though. At that point, Scott will have to clear a couple of hurdles in order to reach his goal of rejoining the team.
"There's a progression to everything," Scott said. "My feeling is [the process] is going to go pretty quick.
"I can't predict the future, but I'm encouraged that it will only be a couple of weeks instead of five."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.