Here's your all-inclusive guide to Astros opening day

Photo by Bob Levey /Stringer/Getty Images.

Baseball is finally back for the 2020 season, we'll hope and see for how long. But at 8:10 p.m. next Friday, Justin Verlander will take the mound at Minute Maid Park to throw the unceremonial first pitch of what has to be the strangest season in Astros – and every other team's – history.

Teams will start the COVID-shortened, 60-game season, with a 30-man roster, which will be whittled down to 26 players after about a month. Both the American and (gasp) National Leagues will use designated hitters. The Astros have a new manager, Dusty Baker, and new general manager, James Click, for their season of vindication. Relievers will have to face at least three batters unless the inning ends first. Players won't be allowed to spit or high-five each other. The Astros third baseman shaved his head again. Phillies infielder Didi Gregorius will wear a face mask during games. Extra innings will start with a runner on second base. Fun fact: if that runner crosses home plate, it will be scored an unearned run.

Subject to change, here's the Astros starting pitching for the opening 4-game set against the Seattle Mariners. Verlander on Friday night, Lance McCullers goes Saturday (3:10 p.m.), followed by Zack Greinke on Sunday (1:10 p.m.) and Josh James on Monday (6:10 p.m.) Like most of the schedule, the games against Seattle will be televised on ATT SportsNet SW. Unlike the NBA, baseball teams will not be confined to a coronavirus-protective bubble, which means everything about this season really is subject to change.

The Astros will play 40 games against American League West rivals and 20 games against the National League West. No Yankees, no Red Sox. The season will be split evenly, 30 games each at home and on the road. The Astros will be trying to repeat as American League champions, win the American League West for the fourth consecutive time, and top last year's 107-game win total. It would be the first time the Astros have done any of those.

Baseball's opening day always has been special, since April 22, 1876 when Boston beat Philadelphia, 6-5, in what is regarded as baseball's first professional opening day. The game took just over two hours to play. Wouldn't that be nice? We could be home in time for Dominique. Here's how the N.Y. Clipper newspaper covered that first contest: "Weather was favorable and the attendance large, over 3,000 persons being inside the inclosure."

While today's players are far superior to those of 1876, so are today's sports writers. I'm sure my baseball scribe buddy Richard Justice would have written "more than 3,000 fans" and "enclosure" instead of "inclosure," which I'm not sure is even a word. Next week Justice will report that the paid attendance at Astros' Opening Day will be, in the words of George Costanza, "absolute zero." The 2020 baseball season, at least at the start, will be played without fans. Forget Dollar Dogs on Tuesdays.

Baseball, being a game of stats, has a special column for Opening Day. Tom Seaver holds the record for most Opening Day starts with 16. In 1940, Cleveland's Bob Feller threw the only Opening Day no-hitter, beating the Chicago White Sox, 1-0 in old and cold Comiskey Park. Temperature at game time: 35 degrees. Largest attendance for an Opening Day: 74,420 at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium to watch the hometown Indians beat the Tigers, 2-1. Henry Aaron hit his 714th homer, tying Babe Ruth's all-time record (at the time) on Opening Day in 1974. Presidents often have thrown out first pitches on Opening Day. In 1950, ambidextrous Harry Truman threw out two pitches – one righty and one lefty. Frank Robinson holds the record for most home runs on Open Day – eight dingers for four different teams. Three players have hit homers in four consecutive Opening Days: Todd Hundley (1994-97), Gary Carter (1977-80) and Yogi Berra (1955-58). Astros soon-to-be free agent George Springer (sign him!) enters 2020 riding a three Opening Day homer streak.

The strangest Opening Day game, though, had to be way back on April 11, 1907, when the Philadelphia Phillies beat the New York Giants … by forfeit. If you had to guess the reason for the forfeit, you'd be here forever still guessing.

New York forfeited the game because a Giants fan hit umpire Bill Klem in the head with a snowball.

Snow had fallen in New York the night before the game. The Phils were leading 3-0 in the top of the ninth when fans began throwing snowballs at each other. Some fans ran on the field and one of them threw a perfect strike, clobbering Klem in the head with a frozen fastball. Since the home team is responsible for stadium security, Klem stopped the game and gave the win to the Phillies by forfeit.

Whoever threw the snowball beaned the most famous umpire in baseball history. Klem umped big league games from 1905 to 1941. The "Old Arbitrator" worked games in 18 World Series (a record) and is credited with being the first to use arm signals to indicate balls and strikes. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953. His plaque does not show him getting smacked with a snowball.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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