BALTIMORE - Opening Day is typically a special day for all baseball players, but perhaps even more so for players who not long ago didn't even expect to be on a major-league roster for the season opener.
That is the case for Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop and relief pitcher Evan Meek, who both earned spots on the 25-man roster following strong performances in spring training.
Neither Schoop or Meek were close to being locks to making the Orioles' big-league roster out of camp. Yet they'll both have their opportunity to run down the orange carpet Monday when Baltimore opens its season against the Boston Red Sox.
Many expected Schoop to eventually become the Orioles' starting second baseman. But perhaps not this soon. The 22-year-old enters 2014 as Baltimore's top positional prospect and its No. 4 prospect overall.
But when the Orioles' lineup card is released early Monday afternoon, there's a good chance Schoop is on it.
"This is a part of the process, and this is where the process has led him right now," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. ""He's excited, and that makes me excited. I think he gets great confidence in the confidence we have in him."
Schoop had a stellar spring that forced the Orioles to keep him on the team. He hit .385 with two homers and eight RBIs.
Meanwhile, Jemile Weeks, who the Orioles acquired from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Jim Johnson, struggled, hitting .171 before being sent down to Class-AAA Norfolk Saturday.
That was when Schoop found out he would be making an Opening Day roster for the first time in his young career.
"I just came in to work hard, regardless of starting in the minors or starting in the big leagues. I just came here to do my best," Schoop said.
"I tried to work hard and do the things you've got to do to be a better baseball player."
The path to this year's Opening Day was not as easy for Meek. The 30-year-old right-hander didn't even sign with the Orioles until Feb. 6.
Meek was an All-Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010, but then he tore a muscle in his right shoulder in 2011.
He missed a lot of 2012, and then spent 2013 in the Texas Rangers' organization, but never made it to the majors.
"Obviously, everybody wants to be a part of what's going on here," Meek said, "so to find out you made the team, I don't think I have words to describe that feeling, considering the journey of being here and the story of the offseason and all that stuff."
It became apparent that Meek was going to earn the last spot in the Baltimore bullpen when Alfredo Aceves opted out of his contract on Thursday.
Meek was told by Showalter Saturday prior to the team's exhibition game against Class-AAA Norfolk.
Meek said it was a sigh of relief, especially considering the path he had been on to reach this point.
"Finding out I made the team, to be here now, it's a blessing for me and my family," Meek said. "I'm just excited to be here."