The Pulaski Mariners took the first step in the marathon known as the Appalachian League season with their opening night showdown against the Burlington Royals with their 2013 championship pennant overlooking them from the right centerfield wall.
The ever persistent Royals chipped away at a four run lead to tie the contest in the top of the ninth inning prompting extra innings. Pulaski would not allow their special day to be foiled, and pulled out a 12th inning walk-off.
Rookie shortstop Nelson Ward dazzled in his professional debut. The 12th-round pick out of the University of Georgia went four-for-five and was a triple short of the cycle. Ward crushed a delivery by Burlington pitcher Carlos Herrera for a second inning grand slam which gave the Mariners a 6-2 lead.
"It was a great feeling" said Ward. "I was looking for something middle-in to pull. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it leave the park, and I was on cloud nine."
Pulaski starter Jeffeson Medina would not allow himself to become unraveled following two early fielding errors. He pitched five innings allowing two unearned runs on four hits with five strikeouts.
With a two-run advantage heading into the ninth inning manager Rob Mummau sent Peter Miller to the mound. Miller let the lead slip through his hands by allowing the Royals to score three runners. Brandon Dulin hit the two-run go ahead home run over the left field fence-his second of the game.
Neither team threatened until the bottom of the second when Yordi Caldron came through with the walk-off solo homer with one out. His jubilant teammates ambushed Calderon at home as they celebrated their first win of the 2014 season.
Not every team has the opportunity to start the season with a win. Putting the first game in the win column is even more special when done in such a dramatic fashion.
"Hitting the game winner was a beautiful feeling" said Calderon. "We played hard, we did our thing, we never gave up, and we won the game."
The Mariners return to action tomorrow night at 7 p.m. against the Burlington Royals.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.