Accompanied by family members and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria in a large golf cart, legendary boxer Muhammad Ali delivered the game ball to the mound as part of the opening ceremonies for Opening Night in Miami on Wednesday, as chants of "Ali! Ali! Ali!" echoed throughout Marlins Park.
"I'm a very lucky man: The last four years, I've see this man four times," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "How many people can say that? Back in Arizona, Spring Training, he showed up. He's a legend. He means a lot to a lot of people in this country. I can sit here for hours talking about the man. This man did a lot of great things for this country. It's nice when people treat him the way they treat him. A lot of respect."
Ali's appearance at Marlins Park was in the works for two months.
"I wanted to give the fans the sense that we're doing special things here," Loria said. "At first I brought him in to see the players, and they were very happy. A total surprise for everybody."
Loria embraced Ali, who is dealing with the effects of Parkinson's Disease, as the cart traveled across the field, and Marlins players posed for photos with the boxing champion when he arrived at the mound. Ali passed the game ball to third baseman Hanley Ramirez as chants of "Ali, Ali, Ali" erupted again.
"He was great," Loria said. "He's so strong. I was holding onto his hands, and he just about destroyed my hand. He is as strong as he ever was. The disease is debilitating, but he is still the most famous person on the face of the Earth. It's a big up for the crowd and for me. That's what it's all about. You know how I feel about doing special things for the players and for the fans, and I'm going to try to continue to do that."
The touching ceremony capped a spectacular pregame festival that included dance routines, multiple music acts and the Star-Spangled Banner sung by Jose Feliciano.
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less