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Deep freeze, deep thoughts on opening day

That special feeling of hope, joy and promise that accompanies every baseball opening day came with a shiver in many places this year. And a somber moment of silence.

Snow delayed the Orioles’ game against the Cleveland Indians on Monday in Baltimore, where fans huddled under blankets and downed more hot chocolate and coffee than beer.

Temperatures were in the low 40s in New York and Detroit, where pitchers Tom Glavine and Brad Radke repeatedly blew on their fingers to get a better grip on the ball.

The big chill may have been the reason for empty seats; perhaps the afternoon starts prevented old and young alike from finding a legitimate excuse to skip work and school.

That wasn’t the case in Cincinnati, where a sellout crowd watched former President Bush throw out the first pitch in the Reds’ spanking new Great American Ball Park.

His son was invited but declined, being otherwise occupied with the war in Iraq.

So, his dad told fans it was an honor “to be off the bench substituting for another guy you know, the president of the United States of America.”

Dozens of red, white and blue streamers swirled in the wind as chants of “USA! USA! USA!” rang through the new stadium, where Ken Griffey Jr. later doubled for the first hit and Pittsburgh’s Reggie Sanders hit the first home run.

The war in Iraq overshadowed pregame ceremonies at some parks.

There were military fly-overs and moments of silence for the armed forces; “God Bless America” was sung during seventh-inning stretches.

“We’re playing a game for a living and that’s real life over there,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. “But life goes on and this is our life.”

At Comerica Park in Detroit, where the Tigers lost to Minnesota 3-1, fans remembered the troops and Aretha Franklin belted out a stirring rendition of the national anthem.

The Orioles remembered two of their own — pitching prospect Steve Bechler, who died in spring training; and former star Dave McNally, who died last winter.

The Marlins honored the astronauts killed aboard space shuttle Columbia on Feb. 1, unveiling a shuttle patch on the right-field wall.

And that wasn’t all. Hot dogs were on the house, management’s way of trying to make up for running out of franks last season during the first home game under new owner Jeffrey Loria.

St. Louis Cardinals fans wore their usual red, but with plenty of white and blue accents. One sign at Busch Stadium read: “Baseball has Players — America has Heroes.”

As for the games themselves, the New York Yankees marked the beginning of their 100th anniversary season by heading north to Toronto, their first start outside the United States. It was not a good one.

Derek Jeter, the team’s heart and soul, was knocked out with a dislocated left shoulder following a violent collision at third base with Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby. For many Yankees fans in New York it was one of the few games they could watch on TV since 2001 because of a cable dispute that was resolved just before game time. Their joy was short-lived. Jeter went out in the third inning.

Meantime, marquee names like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens were on the mound. Barry Bonds was back in the batter’s box, hoping to begin another record-setting season.

Aces Glavine and Greg Maddux got roughed up.

The Cubs ruined Glavine’s debut with the Mets, 15-2. It was the biggest opening-day blowout since the Chicago White Sox beat the St. Louis Browns 17-3 on April 17, 1951, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s statistician.

The Montreal Expos sent Maddux to his first opening-day loss with a 10-2 victory in Atlanta.

The Expos did it without Vladimir Guerrero, who was serving a two-game suspension for a spring training fight.

What they’ll probably remember most about opening day in Baltimore is the cold.

Ray S. Michno strolled up to the Camden Yards ticket window at 10:20 a.m. and easily bought two seats in the left-field upper boxes.

“This is the first time that’s ever happened,” said his son, Ray J. Michno, clutching the tickets. “Usually you can’t walk up and get them on the day of the first game.”

When it’s snowing you can. It even delayed the game 13 minutes.

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