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There are openers, then there are Cincinnati openers

Beginning with parade, a prideful moment for Reds, their fans and entire Queen City

CINCINNATI -- Make no mistake, Opening Day in Cincinnati is no ordinary day at the ball yard.

"It's a special day. It's a day we all look forward to, getting out of Spring Training and getting under the real lights and playing a meaningful game," outfielder Ryan Ludwick said. "If you don't have a little bit of butterflies, a little bit of nerves and a lot of excitement, then there's something wrong."

The Reds' place as history's first professional baseball team merits special consideration. Over the years, that has manifested itself as a guaranteed start to the season at home.

"Certainly, I think everybody that follows Major League Baseball understands the great Opening Day that the Reds have had traditionally over the years," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It used to be the first game every year of the Major League season, which is outstanding. The parade, the support throughout the community, it's like a regional holiday, which I think is terrific. It brings a certain amount of electricity.

"Opening Day is special for everyone, but opening the first game at home I think is even more special than opening six days into the season. I don't know if there's a huge advantage; there's probably statistics that would verify that, but I do know that the city and the surrounding towns are so supportive of the Reds and the Reds Nation. I think it would be impossible not to feel that when you're on the field."

Jay Bruce said there's a major advantage to be had for the players in getting to start at home.

"The tradition of opening at home -- the Cincinnati Reds being the first professional baseball team -- is obviously something that the Reds as an organization are very proud of," Bruce said. "From just a personal standpoint, it's much more comfortable. You get to come home. You get to get settled in. You get to just take a deep breath and get on your routine, get on your schedule a little bit rather than start the hotel tour so early.

"It's nice to come here and know that you're going to be opening at home. Being able to play in front of the home crowd is huge, too."

But for all its fanfare, Opening Day comes with a fantastic amount of pressure. Just ask Price, who suited up Monday for his first time as the Reds' manager.

"I think it's a situation that can be overwhelming if you allow it to be," he said prior to the game. "I'm the 61st manager to have this opportunity to have an Opening Day here with the Reds, so that in and of itself can be overwhelming if I allow it to be. I think the most important thing is to embrace this wonderful moment, not just in my life and in my family's, but for this team and this group and this ownership and the fans.

"We'd love for this to be a memorable Opening Day for all the right reasons and a great start to our season. As much as I'm trying not to be overwhelmed by it, certainly going through this for the first time is special in its own way."

Ask Bruce, who is starting his sixth season in the big leagues.

"What I can relate it to most are playoff games," he said. "It really feels like a playoff game every day. For the city of Cincinnati, I've been fortunate enough to spend all my Opening Days here. It's very special. It really is.

"There's a parade that I never seem to be a part of, but I hear it's great," Bruce chuckled. "It's truly something that Cincinnati really does first class. And I'm honored and humbled to be a part of it."

Or ask Billy Hamilton, who was readying for his first Opening Day and for his new job as the Reds' starting center fielder.

"I couldn't sleep last night," Hamilton said. "Sleep for like 30 minutes, wake up for 30 minutes and think about the game. I feel like I'm back in my high school championship game."

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for in the fall of '11.
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