OPENING DAY IS FINALLY HERE

Today is the day we baseball nuts wait for all winter. The Major League Baseball Season opens up with three games on tap. At 1:05, the St. Louis Cardinals play the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park with Adam Wainwright, coming back from Tommy John surgery against the Pirates Francisco Liriano, 12-7 last year.

In the second game, at 4:05, the Tampa Bay Rays host the Toronto Blue Jays in Tropicana Field with the Jays Marcus Strohman, who missed most of last year with a knee injury but came back to go 4-0 at the end of the year and had a great Playoff run, against Chris Archer, 12-13 last year and expected to be the Ace of the Rays staff.

The third game, at 8:37, a replay of last year’s World Series puts the New York Mets with their Ace, Matt Harvey, also back from Tommy John surgery, against the Kansas City Royals and Edinson Volquez, 13-9 last year. All three games are on National Television. Five of the six teams in the Opening Day Games made it to the Post Season last year, with the Rays the only exception.

There has been a proposal to make Opening Day a National Holiday as a large portion of the American public take the day off anyway to see the spectacle. Whether that happens or not, Opening Day will always mean full houses for all but few teams.

This is the first year in the last seven that I have not been physically present at an Opening Day. Last year, we were in Tampa’s Tropicana Field for Opening Day, on April 6, between the Rays and the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles won that one 6-2, beating Archer in front of 31,042 fans. The next day, the Orioles won again 6-5 and there were only 13,906 fans present.

The previous year, 2014, we were in Chase Field in Phoenix for the Opener between the Diamondbacks and eventual World Series winning San Francisco Giants. With 48,541 fans on hand, the Diamondbacks lost the opener 9-8 on a Buster Posey two run homer in the top of the ninth. The next day, the Giants got off to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against none other than Wade Miley. After giving up the four runs in the first, Miley then shut out the Giants for six more innings as the D’Backs came back to win 5-4.

The crowd that day was only 18,974. Obviously, the magic of Opening Day goes away quickly in some ball parks in different cities. Not everyone can sell out almost every day like the Red Sox do.

If you have never seen an Opening Day, with its pageantry and drama, you are missing something that every baseball fan should experience at least once. There is usually a special event scheduled for that day in every ball park but watching the introduction of the players and the teams lining up on the base lines to start the season is worth the trip.

In 2015, we saw the Rays honor Don Zimmer, posthumously, on his 65 years in baseball, on Opening Day in Tropicana Field and, in 2014, we saw Joe Garagiola, who passed away last week, receive an award for his ball playing, announcing and charity work before the Opener in Chase Field.

Tomorrow, the rest of the teams take the fields for their openers. The Boston Red Sox open in Cleveland against Tito Francona’s Indians with newly acquired Ace David Price, 18-5 last year, with the Tigers and Blue Jays, and runner up in the Cy Young race after winning it in 2012, before signing as a Free Agent with the Sox. He will face Corey Kluber who was 9-16 but had a 3.49 ERA.

The Yankees open at home against one of last year’s big surprises, the Houston Astros, who will put their Ace and Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA against Masahiro Tanaka, 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA.

The Chicago Cubs, who I expect to win the National League Central Division, start out in California against the Angels. The Cubs will start Jake Arrieta, last year’s National League Cy Young winner, with a 22-6 record against Garrett Richards, 15-12 last year. This is the first year in the last eight that the Angels have not started Jered Weaver on Opening Day. He has had his problems and may start the season in the Minors rehabbing and trying to get his velocity back.

Of course, since this is an even numbered year and the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in the last three even numbered years, fans will be watching them closely. They open at the Milwaukee Brewers and will start Madison Bumgarner, their Ace, who went 18-9 with a 2.93 ERA last year after winning the World Series MVP Award in 2014. The Brew Crew will counter with young Wily Peralta, who was just 5-10 last year with a 4.80 ERA but is expected to be at or near the top of their rotation this year.

By the end of the day on Monday, if the weather is good, every team will have at least one game under its belt but with 161 more to go we will be no closer to being able to predict the ultimate winner. At the end, there will be ten teams in the Post Season.

For the fifth year in a row, there will be two Wild Cards in each league who will play a single elimination game to decide which team goes to the Playoffs against the three Division Winners. In the last four years, at least one of the Wild Card teams has made it to the League Championship Series in every year except 2013. Of course, in 2014 both the Giants and Royals, who made it to the World Series, were Wild Card Teams.

IMG_1423Those Playoffs are a long way off and there will be lots of drama and, I am sure, many surprises along the way. Exactly 26 weeks from today, the Yankees will be at home to the Orioles and the Red Sox will be playing the Blue Jays at Fenway on the last day of the season and we will be wondering how the season went by so quickly, but, for now, we are just happy that we will hear the cry of ‘Play Ball’ at last.

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