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Former stars ring Opening Bell on Wall Street

Morris, Williams, Franco, Nelson join Budweiser brass at New York Stock Exchange

NEW YORK -- It was April 7, 1986, and Jack Morris was on the mound at Detroit. He was a familiar sight in that capacity, making 11 consecutive Opening Day starts for the Tigers, and 14 overall.

There is something about that particular beginning to a Major League Baseball season that stood out to Morris most as he reflected over this timeless tradition, which returned on Monday. Morris joined former stars Bernie Williams, John Franco and Jeff Nelson, as well as Budweiser brass, at the New York Stock Exchange to ring the Opening Bell and talk baseball again on Opening Day.

"Cincinnati typically had the first game, and they were in a rain delay, so Detroit actually got to be the first game," Morris recalled. "I pitched at home, so the very first pitch I threw to the Boston Red Sox, Dwight Evans was the hitter, the very first pitch I threw went into the seats in left field. So to start the season, I had an infinite ERA, and it didn't look good.

"I ended up winning the game. ... So I was pretty thrilled that I left it right there."

Indeed, Morris went seven innings and recorded his first of 21 wins that season. It was a microcosm of baseball, which rewards consistency over the long haul. Whatever happens on this day, it will be just one of 162. But, oh, what a memorable one it can be.

"It's a great day," said Franco, who went straight from the bell-ringing ceremony to Citi Field, where the Mets were scheduled to open against the Nationals at 1:10 p.m. ET. "It's the beginning of a new season, everybody has a chance to be champions today, because everybody starts out the same. It's great, it's another baseball season upon us, and great things should happen this year."

Williams was an Opening Day fixture for the Yankees, playing in his final such event in 2006. He drove in two runs that day as the designated hitter at Oakland in a 15-2 victory.

"It was very exciting," Williams said. "Going through Spring Training, and surviving Spring Training in many ways as I got older, it was always exciting to look forward to the beginning of the season. It was amazing to see all the expectations, everything that came with playing on the first day.

"Opening Day always sparks, for many reasons, the beginning of a new year in many ways. The beginning of the spring, the beginning of the warm weather coming in, and all those great things happening during the course of the year. America and baseball -- obviously, it's a great thing."

One memory that remains vivid to Williams is the home opener at Yankee Stadium in 1996. It was technically the start of a Yankees dynasty, a win that led to the first World Series title for that core of Bronx Bombers. Snow fell at Yankee Stadium during a 7-3 victory over the Royals. In the second inning, Mike Macfarlane hit a fly to center, and Williams correctly chose it from among other falling white objects.

"I remember Andy Pettitte pitching the game, and it was snowing," Williams said. "They couldn't call the game off. I think they had suspended the game the day prior to that. So it was a very surreal experience, playing baseball under snow. And it was wet and it was really bad, but we got the game through. I think we won that game, too."

Visibility was certainly at a premium.

"Yeah, fly balls were a challenge, to say the least," Williams said. "But we managed to pull through. It started to get a lot better after that. And I think it was the beginning of a great run we had with the Yankees over those years, in the mid-'90s and into 2000. I was pretty much a part of that. I always look back to that with a lot of great memories. It was always great for me."

Williams and Nelson both said their thoughts on the arrival of this season are with former teammate Derek Jeter. He begins his farewell season when the Yankees open at Houston on Tuesday, in what will be the final season opener after Monday's slate of 13 games.

"I would like to be here for him, or with him, or playing against him -- anything that has to do with that," Williams said. "All kidding aside, he's gotten to the point that he's able to call his own shots. There are only a few players who have an opportunity and to be so fortunate to have that end to their careers. ... To do it on his own terms, I feel a lot of great admiration for him and obviously wish him all the best."

"He's been a teammate of mine and I played against him for years," Nelson said. "I'll be watching him and hoping that he stays healthy throughout the whole entire year. I know I'm a Yankee, a little biased, but I hope they get back to the World Series and win one for his last year."

Brian Perkins, vice president at Budweiser, technically rang the Opening Bell, a culmination of the brewing company's campaign to make Opening Day a national holiday. A petition garnered more than the required 100,000 signatures to seek administration response, and this past week that response came in the form of praise for the national pastime, if not quite the desired official national day of observance.

To celebrate the public response, Budweiser, MLB's presenting sponsor of Opening Week, is distributing special day-old draught Budweiser to its participating markets around the game.

"We're very excited to have secured over 100,000 signatures, which means the White House has actually responded, President Obama has issued a response to our petition," Perkins said. "We recognize that fans all across the country take time off work, they do everything they can to get to their teams' opening game, and we wanted to recognize this and make it a national movement and make it a meaningful conversation. We feel like we have done that in getting a response from the president. That's pretty great news. It's a testament to the passion of baseball fans across the country."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.