WASHINGTON As the U.S. portion of the major league schedule got under way Sunday night, President Bush said he thought December's Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball "was part of the cleansing process."
"I'm happy with the recognition that it was a problem," Bush said Sunday night during the ESPN broadcast after throwing the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park. "I certainly hope the players continue to work to clean up the sport."
A day ahead of most other teams, the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2 on Ryan Zimmerman's ninth-inning homer off Peter Moylan. They opened their new ballpark with a little help from the former Texas Rangers owner, who expressed worry that performance-enhancing drugs will be developed that escape detection.
When Zimmerman hit his game-winning homer Sunday night, his Nationals teammates spilled out of the dugout it's along the first-base line now, not the third-base line, like at old RFK Stadium and greeted the face of the franchise at home plate.
Twenty-four straight Washington batters had made out before the home run Washington's fourth hit of the game and first since the first inning.
Nick Johnson delivered an RBI double in his first at-bat in more than 18 months, Odalis Perez matched Tim Hudson, and Jon Rauch (1-0) earned the victory after blowing a save in the top of the ninth.
All in all, it sent the paid crowd of 39,389 heading away with even more to smile about than the gleaming white-stone-and-glass ballpark.
"We've waited for so long for a place that can be our own," Zimmerman said. "There are just too many people on this team that are tired of being mediocre."
The Nationals were one out from the victory, ahead 2-1 in the ninth. But Rauch was pressed into closing duty because Chad Cordero has right shoulder tendinitis, and the tying run scored on a passed ball charged to Paul Lo Duca, signed during the offseason as a free agent.
While the World Series champion Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics started the season by splitting a two-game series last week in Tokyo, it won't feel like opening day in most places until today, when 26 of the 30 clubs get under way.
There will be the traditional opening in Cincinnati, where the Reds host Arizona. The Chicago Cubs, who haven't won the World Series in exactly a century, host Milwaukee at Wrigley Field where fans are worried new owner Sam Zell will sell naming rights for the beloved ballpark to some corporate sponsor before unloading the team.
Joe Torre will manage the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first time, and Joe Girardi will manage his first game as Torre's replacement with the Yankees who host opening day at Yankee Stadium for the final time.
"It'll probably be emotional," New York captain Derek Jeter said. "I really don't know what to expect. I'm sure you'll take a look around and try to remember as many things as you can. It's going to be a special year."
In Chicago, Cubs manager Lou Piniella wore a ski hat over his baseball cap at Sunday's Wrigley workout. It was 40 degrees, not at all like the weather at their spring-training camp in Mesa, Ariz.
"It is cold," new right fielder Kosuke Fukudome said.
In New York, the Yankees will try to get off to a fast start in hopes of World Series title No. 27. The big ballpark in the Bronx opened in 1923, and the new stadium rising across 161st St. won't seem the same.
"We're hoping to try to rock the house here one more season before we get there or somebody's going to rock my house," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said with a laugh.
Torre will be at Dodger Stadium managing Los Angeles in its opener against San Francisco which is without Barry Bonds on its roster for the first time since 1992. The 67-year-old Torre managed the Yankees to 12 straight postseason appearances including four World Series championships before rejecting an offer to continue on the job last fall.
The rest of the AL schedule today has Kansas City at Detroit, Tampa Bay at Baltimore, Chicago at Cleveland and Texas at Seattle. In the NL, it's Washington at Philadelphia, Pittsburgh at Atlanta and Houston at San Diego.