Notes: Radke starts opener in new way

Notes: Radke starts opener in new way

MINNEAPOLIS -- Taking the mound on Opening Day is nothing unfamiliar to Brad Radke.

But as the former Twins pitcher stood outside the team's home clubhouse on Monday and waited for his opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, the feeling was one that Radke hadn't experienced much in his career.

"I'm nervous," Radke said. "It's just throwing out the first pitch. It's so easy to do, but I feel like I'm more nervous now than I was before my starts."

There wasn't any need for concern, as Radke's first return to the mound at the Metrodome since his regular-season farewell last year went off without a hitch. The pitcher stepped back on the rubber amidst a standing ovation and delivered a solid strike to manager Ron Gardenhire.

Radke's pitch was just one part of a tribute to the pitcher who clearly had meant so much to the Twins organization during his 12-year-career. Radke was also showered with a few gifts as the team gave him the pitching rubber that he toed in his final start, signed by the entire club. The Twins also donated $10,000 to the Brad and Heather Radke Foundation.

This spring was a little different for the veteran, who had spent his past 15 years in Fort Myers with the club. From coaching his 11-year-old son Kasey's Little League team to getting out on the water for his beloved fishing, Radke has kept himself plenty busy over the winter -- so much so that he didn't even catch a full Spring Training game, even though he lives near Clearwater, Fla.

While Radke made one quick stop at Spring Training camp to see some of the guys before a Twins game at Dunedin against the Blue Jays, it was the only contact he had with baseball all spring. But getting used to being away from baseball wasn't always easy.

"Sometimes I'd look at my phone and see the date on it and I'm like, 'Wait a minute, I'm not supposed to be here right now,'" Radke said with a chuckle. "And looking at the Twins box score every day seeing how everybody was doing, that was weird. It's going to be weird for a little while. But life is good."

Radke has moved on, and so have the Twins. Radke's absence has created a lot of question marks for the starting staff, which has led to many people believing the Twins will finish fourth in the American League Central Division.

But Radke feels the Twins can be special this year, and he will be paying close attention as he spends his summer back in Minnesota.

"I think they are as good as we were last year," Radke said. "Guys learned a lot last year. You know it's just going to be a fun year, a fun year to watch."

Designated southpaw? Jeff Cirillo was penciled into the Twins' Opening Day lineup as the designated hitter with the Orioles starting left-hander, Erik Bedard.

opening day 2007

Gardenhire had said earlier this spring that he would use Cirillo and Jason Kubel in a sort of platoon role, using Cirillo against lefties and Kubel against right-handers.

But when Gardenhire was asked Monday if Cirillo will be the only DH used against left-handers, he said that wouldn't be the case.

"Not necessarily always, but for the most part he will be," Gardenhire said. "There are other guys I can use, too. I've got a third catcher, so I can do that once in a while. I might even use [Mike] Redmond in that spot when Cirillo is playing the infield. I've got a lot of options for right-handed bats."

Steady as he goes: There are few pitchers that a team assumes will deliver a strong start every time out, and the Twins have one of those in Johan Santana.

The Twins have been fortunate enough to have two over the past few years. Just like with Radke, the feeling isn't ever one of concern when Santana takes the mound.

So does that mean the team takes him for granted?

"I guess you do," Gardenhire said. "You don't do it on purpose, it just happens. It was Radke around here for a long time and then came Santana. Then it was Santana and Radke you don't worry about. Now we're back to just Santana. It's an easy thing to do and it's not a bad thing to say we take him for granted, believe me."

Twins tidbits: Carlos Silva has taken over Radke's old locker in the Twins clubhouse at the Metrodome. Radke said he was going to try and leave some good karma in the locker for his old rotation mate. ... Justin Morneau's home run in the second inning was his first career Opening Day homer.

Coming up: The Twins will take on the Orioles in Game 2 of the three-game set in a 7:10 p.m. CT start Tuesday. Right-hander Boof Bonser will make his season debut against Baltimore's right-hander Daniel Cabrera.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.