Star turns and a star debut

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New team, same great stuff from Halladay; Heyward a big hit in his first game for Atlanta

Albert Pujols launched two home runs, Roy Halladay looked every bit an ace and Barack Obama pulled out a White Sox hat to make his presidential pitch.

But no one had a bigger blast on opening day than Jason Heyward.

Billed as the majors' next phenom, this Braves' prospect bridged baseball's past and future Monday when he caught the ceremonial first ball from Hank Aaron.

Peter Marik, a member of the Milwaukee Brewers' groundskeeping crew, scrubs home plate before the Brewers' opening game of the 2010 baseball season against the Colorado Rockies Monday in Milwaukee. The Rockies won 5-3. - Photo by The Associated Press

Albert Pujols launched two home runs, Roy Halladay looked every bit an ace and Barack Obama pulled out a White Sox hat to make his presidential pitch.

But no one had a bigger blast on opening day than Jason Heyward.

Billed as the majors' next phenom, this Braves' prospect bridged baseball's past and future Monday when he caught the ceremonial first ball from Hank Aaron.

Then with the Atlanta crowd chanting his name, the 20-year-old Heyward mashed a three-run homer on his first swing in the big leagues.

"I felt my legs, but I couldn't hear myself think," he said. "I think I'll remember that the most ... how loud it was."

Nice job, rook.

Mark McGwire made a more quiet return. Back in baseball after admitting he took steroids, Big Mac drew little reaction in Cincinnati when he was introduced as the new hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pujols looked like he didn't need much help from McGwire. The National League's MVP went 4-for-5 and hit two of a team-record four homers on opening day.

In New York, there were a few boos. After seeing their club crippled by injuries last season, Mets fans heckled - of all people - the team trainers. Tough crowd!

A day after Boston beat the World Series champion New York Yankees in the major league opener, most everyone else swung into action.

On a huge sports day in America - the NCAA men's basketball championship game, the Tiger Woods news conference - baseball delivered a full first day.

There were 13 games on the schedule, and all over, the weather held. Rather than the dreary, lukewarm temperatures that often dampen openers, it was a beautiful day to play ball. In Milwaukee, this was the earliest the Miller Park roof was open for a regular-season game in its 10-year history.

Some four hours before first pitch between the Mariners and Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum, Seattle players warmed up by tossing around a football in right field. The black clouds had parted in the Bay Area and blue skies emerged.

In Washington, President Obama's first pitch was way high and wide. But pretty much all of Halladay's were spot-on as he struck out nine in his National League debut to help the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Nationals 11-1. Placido Polanco hit a grand slam and drove in six runs, and Ryan Howard also homered for the Phillies, who got their push for a third straight World Series appearance off to a strong start.

"We definitely got started off on a good note today," Jayson Werth said. "Roy was magnificent. He was exactly what we expected."

Halladay allowed one run and six hits in seven innings and settled down to dominate after the Nationals scored in the first.

"It was a lot different," said Halladay, whose seven previous opening day starts came with the Toronto Blue Jays before being traded to the Phillies. "It's been fun for me. Nothing against Toronto, but it kind of gives you renewed energy coming over here. It's a team that wants to win and can win."

Halladay even helped himself at the plate with his second career RBI, albeit on a dribbler that travelled all of about 30 feet in Philadelphia's five-run fourth inning. He had plenty of support from a sellout crowd whose support was about evenly split.

Meanwhile, Obama received only scattered boos among thunderous cheers as he took the mound to mark the 100th anniversary of presidential first pitches.

Not a natural baseball player by his own admission, the left-hander double-clutched before uncorking a wayward delivery that had third baseman Ryan Zimmerman standing and stretching his arm just to make the catch.

"It was high and outside. I was intentionally walking the guy," Obama quipped during an appearance in the Nationals' TV broadcast booth. "Fortunately, Zimmerman has a tall reach."

Obama wore a Nationals jacket but made an audacious fashion statement by donning a White Sox cap - a nod to his favourite team - as he walked to the mound.

"Bad move there," Washington manager Jim Riggleman said with a shake of the head.

While Halladay looked like a pitcher more than capable of claiming the National League Cy Young Award, the NL's defending Cy Young winner showed he's up to any challenge. In San Francisco, the Giants' Tim Lincecum pitched seven scoreless innings in getting a 5-2 win over the Houston Astros.

Lincecum (1-0) allowed four hits and struck out seven with no walks. About the only thing that slowed Lincecum was the mud that got stuck in his cleats with one out in the fifth. He walked off the mound and motioned to the umpire before a Giants trainer came out and handed him something, which he used to dig the chunks of mud out from in between the spikes.

He then returned to the mound and quickly retired the next two batters.

In Atlanta, Heyward hit his home run just minutes after catching the first pitch from Aaron, sparking the Braves to a 16-5 opening win Monday over Carlos Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs.

Heyward, who also had a run-scoring single in the eighth, was 2 for 5 with four RBIs.

"It was the first of many career highlights for him," said Atlanta's Chipper Jones. "That was impressive, that was very impressive."

Braves fans in the sellout crowd eagerly embraced Heyward, from Henry County, about 30 minutes south of Atlanta.

Fans chanted "Let's go, Heyward!" as he confidently took two pitches in his first-inning at-bat, then sent a fastball from Zambrano into the Braves' bullpen behind the right-field wall on his first swing, sending the crowd over the top.

"I don't know that I've ever heard this stadium that loud," Jones said.

Heyward (six-foot-five, 240) won the starting job in right field despite playing only 50 games above class-A in his quick rise through the minor leagues. He was selected baseball's top prospect by Baseball America after hitting .323 with 17 homers and 63 RBIs at three minor league stops in 2009.

Organizations: Braves, White Sox, National League Philadelphia Phillies St. Louis Cardinals NCAA Mariners Giants Toronto Blue Jays Houston Astros Chicago Cubs

Geographic location: Atlanta, America, Cincinnati Washington New York Boston Milwaukee Miller Park Seattle Bay Area Toronto Philadelphia San Francisco Henry Zambrano

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