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Miller thrilled for first Opening Day in Majors

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Brad Miller played in 76 games for the Mariners as a rookie last year, including one in Anaheim near the end of September. But none of those games will be quite like what the Mariners shortstop experiences Monday night when he steps out on the field for his first Major League Opening Day.

Miller beat out Nick Franklin for the starting shortstop job this spring and now will be one of eight Mariners relishing their first big league Opening Day when they toe the line at Angel Stadium for the 7:05 p.m. PT season debut.

"That's what [general manager Jack Zduriencik] said in our meeting," Miller said Sunday before the Mariners took the field for a final workout. "Hey, this is every little kid's dream. And he's exactly right. I still feel like a little kid. This is so much fun, is the main thing. It's going to be pretty cool."

Miller erased any question in the shortstop competition by putting together a monster spring. He led the Cactus League in slugging percentage (.836), tied for first in runs scored (17), tied for second in hits (25), finished third in on-base percentage (.478) and triples (4) and fourth in batting average (.410).

Still, he didn't know until Franklin was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma on Friday that he'd definitely won the job.

"It really hit me when we got on the plane after [Saturday's] game," said the 24-year-old. "Luckily I got a chance to come here last year, so there's a little familiarity. But yeah, it's all new. It's weird. I remember last year Opening Day, I was playing in Jacksonville.

"Just everything is different. It's going to be a lot of fun, being out there with these guys. Felix [Hernandez] has thrown seven Opening Days, that's just awesome. I'm trying to take everything in stride, but I'm just excited more than anything."

The other first-time Opening Day players for Seattle are center fielder Abraham Almonte, catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Stefen Romero, starting pitchers James Paxton and Roenis Elias and relievers Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina.

Romero and Elias will be making their Major League debuts, the other players all were midseason callups last year.

Manager Lloyd McClendon knows the butterflies will be churning for those youngsters, particularly with Almonte, Zunino and Miller all expected to be in the starting lineup on Monday. McClendon well remembers his own Opening Day experiences.

"It's a great day," he said. "Heck, everybody is in first place and hope springs eternal. I think it's a special day for a lot of reasons. But for the players who've worked so hard to get to this point, it's their chance to have their opening moment on the stage. It's an important day and I don't take it for granted. I'm proud of all of them and I hope they all enjoy it."

He said he'll address the first-timers at some point to make sure they keep things in perspective.

"I know their emotions are high, but at some point you have to level off and get focused again," he said prior to Sunday's workout. "Today is the day it needs to level off and you start getting focused again. They've made all their phone calls and shed all their tears, now it's time to get back to work."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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