MILWAUKEE -- Monday marked Ryan Braun's comeback from last year's suspension, a trio of Wisconsin-born Olympians delivering ceremonial first pitches and the return of baseball after a brutal winter.
And yet it was a little white dog who garnered the biggest ovation on Opening Day in Milwaukee.
Hank, the pup who wandered into the Brewers' hearts at Maryvale Baseball Park at the start of Spring Training, made his Miller Park debut on Monday when he joined players streaming out of the clubhouse. Bernie Brewer accompanied Hank to home plate, then walked him down the right-field line and out of sight before Yovani Gallardo delivered the season's first pitch.
"It's always nice when an act of human kindness like that can make so many people feel so good," said Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio. "Fortunately for Hank, I just saw him outside and he's gained about four pounds since he wandered into Maryvale. When you're 11 pounds and go to 15 pounds, that's a big percentage."
With bunting hanging all over the ballpark and a sellout crowd slowly filling the seats, Hank's appearance capped the run up to the 46th season in franchise history. Players were introduced along the foul lines, including five Brewers enjoying their first Major League Opening Day (Jeff Bianchi, Scooter Gennett, Will Smith, Tyler Thornburg and Wei-Chung Wang). Per tradition, Attanasio's father, Joseph, sang the national anthem. Sochi Olympians Matt Antoine of Prairie du Chien, Wis., Brianna Decker of Dousman and Jessica Vetter from Cottage Grove threw first pitches.
Then came Hank. Some fans in the stands were already wearing Hank T-shirts, which the Brewers have been selling at both Maryvale Baseball Park and Miller Park, with part of the proceeds going to the Arizona and Wisconsin Humane Societies.
"What we're trying to do, and it's a very hard balance, is share him and his feel-good story with everyone," Attanasio said. "Talk about redemption, you have this dog who was rolled by a car and barely 11 pounds and had two chipped teeth and a few other issues … now he's 15 pounds, we're still working on the teeth, but he's happy and barking now. He was very timid when he first came in. It's a good story for everybody, so we try to share that, and share the proceeds with the Humane Society both here and in Arizona and raise awareness, which is good.
"I told [Brewers vice president and general counsel] Marty Wronski -- Hank was adopted by her family-- any time she wants to say no, the answer is no. he has to be a dog first. We all feel really good about it."