Wintry weather greets Reds vs. Cubs opener

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 5, 2004

CINCINNATI - Dusty Baker was bundled in two jackets, a stocking cap and batting gloves as he left the shelter of the clubhouse tunnel and stepped into the wind-swept visitors dugout.

''Ain't too bad out here!'' he declared, chomping down on his toothpick.

On that matter, the Chicago Cubs manager was in a tiny minority.

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The Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds worked out in wintry conditions at Great American Ball Park on Sunday, a day before their season opener. Temperatures were barely above freezing, a stinging north wind turned noses red, and flakes no bigger than a grain of beach sand floated in the air.

''Is that snow?'' Cubs special assistant Gary Hughes asked.

Indeed, it was - another unmistakable sign that opening day was at hand.

The city's notoriously fickle April weather is expected to moderate a little by the time Cory Lidle takes the mound Monday afternoon in front of a crowd that bought out the 42,000-seat ballpark in only 16 minutes.

Lidle, who lost 15 games last season for Toronto, has never pitched a season opener and has little firsthand knowledge of the special place it holds in Cincinnati's heart.

''Just what I've heard,'' he said Sunday. ''Just the simple fact that the vice president is going to be here gives you that feeling it's special.''

Vice President Dick Cheney plans to throw a ceremonial first pitch, the second consecutive year that a prominent Republican has opened the Reds' season. Former President George Bush threw a first pitch before the ballpark's inaugural game last year.

Reds owner Carl Lindner supports the Bush-Cheney ticket. One of his sons hosted a campaign fund-raiser last September in suburban Cincinnati that raised approximately $1.7 million.

The Reds urged fans to arrive early on Monday because of tougher security. Secret Service agents toured the ballpark during the workouts Sunday and met with team officials.

Once Lidle throws the first pitch, the focus will be on two teams that had an offseason to stew about failures.

Chicago had five months to think about how it came within outs of its first World Series appearance since 1945, then collapsed. The Cubs added Greg Maddux in the offseason, improving their chances for a second straight NL Central title.

They're not at full strength at the outset. Right-hander Mark Prior isn't expected to pitch until May because of inflammation in his Achilles' tendon and a stiff elbow. Kerry Wood will start his second straight opener Monday.