Three experience first Opening Day

Three experience first Opening Day

BOSTON -- Three Rays eagerly awaited the experience of their first Major League Opening Day: Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria and Jeff Niemann.

Niemann found out Sunday he would be the team's fifth starter, and he will make his first start of the season Saturday in Baltimore. On Tuesday at Fenway Park, he had a glow on his face.

"My first Opening Day, it's awesome," Niemann said. "I can't wait. I'm going to soak it all in. And my first Opening Day happens at Fenway Park -- that's pretty special."

Joyce won the fifth-outfielder job during the last week of Spring Training and was penciled in as the starter in center field for the Rays' first game of the season. Though he played for the Tigers in 2008, he was not on the team's Opening Day roster.

"This is just exciting -- Opening Day at Fenway Park," Joyce said. "[There's] so much history [here]. [It's my] first time in Fenway, first time starting in center field in a big league game -- a lot of firsts for me. I'm really going to try and control what I can control.

"You just kind of go out there and control what you can. You control your at-bat. You control what you're thinking. You control where you're playing a guy. You control hitting the cutoff man. And it's all the little things that add up at the end of the day."

Joyce is in a precarious position since he knows he'll likely be sent to Triple-A Durham once the road trip is over and center fielder B.J. Upton is activated from the 15-day disabled list. Thinking about his situation is the last thing Joyce wants to have in his head.

"Occasionally it jumps in there," Joyce said. "It's hard not to think about it. The last thing you want to be thinking about in the game is, 'Maybe if I make a diving catch or hit a home run they'll keep me up.' But I can't control that. I just want to play hard to help the team win.'"

A lot of players like to put Opening Day in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible so they can get on with the season. Joyce aspires to feeling that way too, but he's going to savor the experience.

"I think it's important to enjoy it while it's here," said Joyce. "You have to be in the moment and present, right now. Just enjoy it, because it goes by fast."

Ironically, Longoria was the American League's Rookie of the Year in 2008, but he wasn't on the Rays' Opening Day roster. For all of his accolades, he eagerly anticipated experiencing his first Opening Day.

"It's exciting," Longoria said. "I was talking about it with Jason [Bartlett] the other day -- it's not his first Opening Day. But as if the ride for me couldn't get any more storybook, I get to have my first Opening Day in Fenway Park -- one of the most historical baseball fields around. It will be a little cold. It won't be like playing at the Trop on Opening Day. But I think it will be a great experience."

And what did Longoria most look forward to on his first Opening Day?

"Winning," Longoria said. "That's all that it's about now. We've got 162 and we know they're not going to be easy."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.