It’s baseball week! Opening Day will be here in a matter of days and hours, not months and weeks. It’s wonderfully wonderful, isn’t it?
Here are five things I’m most excited about for Opening Day.
I’m ridiculously excited for those lucky enough to be in the stands on Opening Day. Baseball writers and fans have waxed poetic for decades about the thrill of hearing the crack of the bat or the pop of the glove or the roar of the crowd. But a summer without hearing those sounds in person — it just isn’t the same watching on TV or streaming on your phone — really has proven the “absence makes the heart grow fonder” adage true all over again.
For me, the first game I’ll cover this year — and the first one I’ll be at since spring training in 2020, a few days before everything shut down — will be April 8. I am positively giddy at the idea of once again hearing the bat, the glove and the fans make baseball music. Love that masks don’t cover your ears, right? Here’s hoping we all get the chance sooner than later.
Familiar faces, familiar places
Buster Posey will be behind the plate for the Giants on Opening Day. Lorenzo Cain will be roaming the outfield for the Brewers. Jordan Hicks will be in the Cardinals’ bullpen, hoping for his chance to help St. Louis close out its first win of the season with a dominant late-inning performance. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
All three of those players sat out the 2020 season for COVID reasons. Posey and his wife had just adopted twins. Hicks is a Type 1 diabetic. Cain cited family reasons for opting out after playing five games. Baseball is better when it’s safe for players like Cain, Hicks and Posey to perform. We are getting back to normal, folks. That’s more exciting than the actual baseball about to be played.
Those three aren’t the only players who are back, of course. Ryan Zimmerman sat out the 2020 season, and he’s been crushing the ball this spring — he has six homers and a .480 average in 25 ABs. Few pitchers are more entertaining — or effective — than Marcus Stroman, and he’s back in the Mets rotation. Michael Kopech will hurl his triple-digit fastball for the White Sox in a big league game the first time since 2018; he missed 2019 with Tommy John surgery and 2020 because of COVID. David Price will pitch regular-season innings for the Dodgers for the first time.
It’s going to be great to see these players on the field again. Here’s a full list of the players who sat out 2020.
Familiar faces, new places
By now, Mets fans have had seen lots of spring training pictures and video of Francisco Lindor in his new uniform. Same with Cardinals fans and Nolan Arenado, Dodgers fans and Trevor Bauer and White Sox fans with Liam Hendriks.
Seeing these guys take the field in games that count, though? That’s where it gets real, and not just for fans of those teams. That’s when it sinks in for Braves fans that they’ll have to deal with Lindor this summer, for Brewers fans that Arenado will likely gobble up would-be doubles down the line with that Gold Glove of his, and for Padres fans as they realize there is no break after facing Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw in the first two games of a three-game series. And that’s when the rest of us get to watch new fan bases fall in love with new stars.
He’s going to hit a home run on Opening Day, folks. Mark it down.
Look, spring training stats don’t mean a ton. I get that. But I’m going to give you a couple of spring training stats anyway: In 28 at-bats this spring, Ohtani has five home runs and he’s batting .571 with a 1.701 OPS. Again, spring. Sure.
But he’s healthy, and he’s spraying home runs all over the ballpark.
Want a dark-horse MVP candidate in the AL? You could do worse than picking Ohtani, and I cannot wait to see him park one over the fence on Opening Day. Heck, it wouldn’t shock me if he went all Tuffy Rhodes on the White Sox in Game 1.
Ah, Tuffy Rhodes. He had all of five career home runs in 107 career games heading into Opening Day 1994, and then he proceeded to pop three in that one game — all off Dwight Gooden — in his first three at-bats. Even now, a few decades later, it’s shocking. Rhodes played 117 more games in his big league career and hit five more homers, before heading over to Japan, where he became a legendary slugger.
Baseball’s a sport that’s been played since the 1800s, and it still finds a way to surprise and delight us on a daily basis. I cannot wait to see what Opening Day 2021 has in store.