For Orioles experiencing first Opening Day, Thursday marks culmination of lifelong dreams

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Thursday wasn't Nestor Cortes Jr.'s first Opening Day ever — that honor goes to when he and a few buddies skipped class their senior year of high school to go see the 2013 Marlins kick their season off in Miami.

But for him and the four others enjoying their first major league Opening Day, all at different stages of their careers, the meaning of Thursday is something that'll stick with them for life.

"I mean, I still can't believe it," said Cortes, 23. "Since I was a little kid, that's what you look up to — Opening Day — as a fan. Now, I'm in it. It's crazy. It's just crazy."

That sentiment extends to Cortes, fellow Rule 5 draft pick Pedro Araujo, last year's Rule 5 draft pick Anthony Santander, plus left-hander Richard Bleier and catcher Chance Sisco.

Bleier, 30, is the oldest Opening Day first-timer among the bunch.

"Getting to the big leagues is one thing, but I think Opening Day is a little more special," said Bleier, who made his major league debut in 2016 and solidified himself with the Orioles in 2017. "Making a team out of spring, I don't know, for some reason it just seems different than just getting called up midseason. I'm extremely excited for it."

His first minor league Opening Day was in 2009, and he pitched in 249 minor league games before getting to enjoy his first in the majors.

"I got to the big leagues and all that, but I think making a team out of spring and being here really solidifies all the hard work that went into getting to this point — all the years in the minor leagues, all that stuff,” Bleier said. “All the bus trips, all the repeating levels and all that stuff. It was all worth it, you know?"

Sisco, one of the organization's top prospects who made his major league debut last September, had a much smoother ascent to the majors. That doesn't make Thursday any less special.

"It means a lot — something you've worked for your whole life, to be able to be on an Opening Day roster," said Sisco, 23. "I'm just excited to be here right now. I'm excited to get today started and see where it takes us.

"This will be my first Opening Day as a fan or a player. I wasn’t able to make it to an Opening Day. I watched it on TV and was always excited for baseball season to start back up, but was never able to attend one, so today is the first."

Growing up outside of the United States didn't diminish what today represents for Araujo, 24, and Santander, 23. Araujo found out he made the Orioles over a week ago, so he's had plenty of time to anticipate the experience that was to come Thursday.

"It means everything to me," Araujo, who is from the Dominican Republic, said through team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. "I'm really thankful for God for this opportunity. It's a blessing. Hopefully, there's many more to come. ... I was really excited growing up because I was looking forward to seeing my favorite players, my favorite team, with the dream that at one point, I'll be there as well."

Santander, a Venezuelan, said Opening Day took on more significance once professional baseball became a reality for him, and his goals for Thursday are the same as everyone else in orange at Camden Yards.

"To win the very first game, that will be the most important thing right now — to give the victory to the fans," Santander said.

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