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Larry Fitzgerald throws first-pitch strike as 2016 season looms for Cardinals

PHOENIX — Larry Fitzgerald really had just one goal Monday night when he was getting ready to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Diamondbacks’ 2016 opener against the Colorado Rockies.

“I just didn’t want to do anything crazy,” he said. “You know, 50 Cent put it in the dugout; I’ve seen (President) Obama short-hop it in there.

“I just wanted to make sure I got it all the way to the catcher, so that’s why I went with my changeup. It’s a comfortable pitch for me.”

While Fitzgerald was probably not as comfortable on the diamond as he is on the gridiron, the Cardinals’ receiver threw a pitch that an umpire with a wide zone could call a strike, and with it he got the D-backs’ season, which begins with plenty of buzz and excitement, underway.

“It was a fabulous experience,” he said. “Something that you always dreamed about as a kid, to have an opportunity on Opening Day, the hometown team, and to be able to actually throw a strike — it was probably about 35 mph, that’s what I throw to my son in the batting cage usually for BP.”

The 32-year-old Fitzgerald, who will be entering his 13th NFL season in 2016, said he played some baseball growing up but was not much of a hitter. It’s safe to say things worked out for him with football, a game in which he has made his mark as one of the best receivers of his generation.

With 1,018 career receptions and 98 touchdowns, along with a bevy of impressive postseason performances, the former No. 3 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft has accomplished about as much as one can in the league, short of winning a Super Bowl.

Fitzgerald and the Cardinals finished 2015 one game short of playing for the game’s ultimate prize, and that Arizona was blown out 49-15 is something that gnaws at the nine-time Pro Bowler.

“It sucks that we played the way we did at that time, it wasn’t a good game by any stretch of the imagination across the board,” he lamented. “We worked that hard to get to that position and not play up to your capabilities, it’s tough to digest.”

However, it has gone down a bit easier for Fitzgerald due to his confidence in the team that will be on the field in 2016.

“We know that we have pretty much the same nucleus of men coming back, and the same coaching staff, and we’re really happy about that and we’ve made some new acquisitions, as well,” he said. “We’re happy where we are, we have a good football team.”

The most notable acquisition made by the Cardinals was of linebacker Chandler Jones. A 2015 Pro Bowler, he posted 12.5 sacks last season and is expected to provide a significant lift to the team’s middling pass rush.

“I think it’s great, I think he’s outstanding,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s going to definitely bring great pass rushing ability to our defense. We already have an outstanding secondary and strong linebacker core, now to bring somebody in that can get 10-plus sacks a year is only going to make us even that much more potent.”

No doubt the Cardinals, who won 13 games and the NFC West before making an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, appear to be a better team now than they were when they last took the field. However, Fitzgerald noted that while the Cardinals certainly look good on paper, that’s not where games are won.

“Coach (Bruce) Arians always says you can’t rank anybody on paper, we’ve got to see where we are when we get to training camp and continue to build,” he said. “We have a long way to go — we’re still going to make a lot of new acquisitions in the draft and I know we’re not done in free agency; (GM) Steve Keim and those guys are still working tirelessly.”

These days, it is the front office’s work that gains most of the attention. Soon, though, Fitzgerald and his teammates will be back at the Cardinals’ Tempe training facility working out and getting ready for the next season, which, like the D-backs’, will begin with plenty of optimism.

Fitzgerald said he has enjoyed his offseason, though he knows it is coming to an end.

“We get back started here in a couple weeks and I know guys are chomping at the bit to get prepared for what we hope to do next season.”

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