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Zimmer honored before Rays open season

Senior advisor greeted by Maddon, players; Balfour cheered in return

ST. PETERSBURG -- A sold-out Tropicana Field enjoyed the Opening Day festivities before Monday's opener against the Blue Jays.

Vintage footage from memorable Rays seasons led up to the introduction of the 2014 team.

Enthusiastic cheers greeted all of the players, but new closer Grant Balfour -- returning after a three-year stint in Oakland -- received the loudest ovation when the PA announcer declared: "Welcome back to the Rays, Grant Balfour!"

Before introducing the starting lineup, Don Zimmer was introduced. The baseball icon and Rays senior advisor sat in the passenger seat of a golf cart that was parked in front of the home dugout. In a moving tribute to Zimmer, Rays manager Joe Maddon stopped to hug his friend after being introduced. All of the starters followed suit.

Afterward, all of the Rays players standing on the first-base line tipped their caps and applauded as Zimmer was driven off.

Once Les Sabler and Marshall Gillon finished performing the national anthems for Canada and the United States, a banner was hoisted in left field commemorating the Rays' 2013 Wild Card season.

Wrapping up the festivities, Colonel Scott V. DeThomas, Commander, 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for
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