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Fans Rave About Astros’ New Park

Associated Press

Fans cheered when the doors to Houston’s Enron Field officially opened Thursday afternoon. Their mood only got better upon first inspection of the sunny grass field of the Astros’ new home.

“You know, I kind of have a lump in my throat,” longtime fan Wade Upton said. “This really shows Houston is back. State of the art, top of the world. That’s how it should be.”

Upton’s brother, Dave, got his 53rd birthday celebration off to a memorable start when Astro outfielder Julio Lugo tossed a practice ball up to his perch on the balcony that juts over the left-center field warning track.

The New York Yankees, who played the first game in the Astrodome 35 years ago, helped open Houston’s new stadium in another exhibition game Thursday night.

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The 40,624 fans who attended Houston’s first outdoor major league game in 36 years were greeted by sunshine, mild temperatures and low humidity one day after the kind of shirt-soaking mugginess that inspired the Astrodome generations before.

Daryle Ward’s two-run homer in the eighth inning was the first home run by a Houston player as the Astros treated the sellout crowd with a 6-5 comeback victory over the Yankees.

Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan threw out the first pitch and Texan Lyle Lovett sang the national anthem. Jeff Bagwell got the first hit in the new stadium and also doubled home the first two runs in the third inning.

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Curt Schilling stayed behind when the Philadelphia Phillies left Clearwater, Fla., but he sent them off with some encouraging news.

Schilling, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder Dec. 13, threw to hitters for the second time this spring and will pitch a game at the Phillies’ minor league complex Sunday.

“There’s a part of you that worries about the next step,” Schilling said. “There are no steps left to take. I’m ready to pitch.”

While the rest of the team flew to Las Vegas on Thursday in preparation for today’s exhibition with the Colorado Rockies, Schilling stayed behind.

“It’s a bummer,” Schilling said. “I was doing my workout, and I was thinking how different of a mind-set it is for me. As opposed to getting ready to pitch against Randy Johnson on Tuesday, I’m getting ready to throw a spring game Sunday.”

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The Chicago White Sox lost reserve outfielder Brian Simmons for the season to a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon in their final spring game in Arizona, a 7-6 loss in 10 innings to the Rockies.

While trying to stretch a double into a triple in the second inning, Simmons injured himself and was carried off the field. Simmons, who batted .145 this spring, was scheduled to have surgery Thursday night.

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McKay Christensen was called up from triple-A Charlotte to fill Simmons’ spot.

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The Oakland Athletics acquired catcher Sal Fasano from the Kansas City Royals for cash. . . . The A’s also reassigned left-handers Mark Mulder and Doug Johns to their minor league camp, and optioned catcher Danny Ardoin to triple-A Sacramento. . . . Two-time defending NL batting champion Larry Walker missed his third consecutive game because of a strained right calf muscle and is questionable for Colorado’s final two spring games in Las Vegas. . . . Brian Hunter, who led the American League with 44 steals last season, signed a one-year contract with the Rockies, three days after being released by the Seattle Mariners. . . . Jose Mesa lost his job as the Mariners’ closer after yielding two homers and six runs in the ninth inning against the San Diego Padres. Manager Lou Piniella said Kazuhiro Sasaki, Japan’s career saves leader with 229 in 10 seasons, will be the closer. . . Padre Manager Bruce Bochy settled a competition at shortstop between Damian Jackson and incumbent Chris Gomez, picking Jackson as the starter. . . . The Boston Red Sox sent pitcher Juan Pena back to Boston to have his right elbow examined by team doctor Dr. Bill Morgan. Pena was hit in the right wrist with a line drive on Tuesday. . . . Yankee infielder D’Angelo Jimenez, who broke a bone in his neck during a car accident in late January, had his neck halo removed. Jimenez was expected to be the Yankees’ backup infielder this season before the accident, which occurred in the Dominican Republic. . . . The Detroit Tigers sent pitcher Jeff Weaver to triple-A Toledo. Weaver will rejoin the team as the fifth starter in two weeks.


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