Cal Ripken Jr. slowly made his way down the rightfield line at Lake Olmstead Stadium, signing autographs and shaking hands on his way toward the pitching mound.
The baseball Hall of Famer kicked off the Augusta GreenJackets' 2009 season Thursday evening with a ceremonial first pitch that found the middle of the strike zone.
It's a strike, GreenJackets public address announcer Scott Skadan said as Ripken autographed the ball for GreenJackets third baseman Charlie Culberson, who caught the pitch at home plate.
Culberson was a part of last year's South Atlantic League championship team that posted a 93-50 record that was the best in Minor League Baseball. Last season's squad was honored with the raising of the championship flag in center field, and Ripken presented the championship trophy to Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver as a gift to the city.
I've always said we are a city of champions, Copenhaver said. This is proof positive that we are.
Ripken, representing Ripken Baseball Group, which owns the GreenJackets, was greeted with a standing ovation before he had a chance to speak to the fans.
I want to say thanks to each and every one of you, he said. You guys come out time and time again to make this your gathering place.