ASTROS OPENING DAY

Here's your all-inclusive guide to Opening Day for the Houston Astros

The Astros open the season against the Angels on Thursday night. Composite photo by Brandon Strange.

At precisely 8:38 p.m. Houston time, give or take a brief delay for another Progressive Insurance commercial (love the Dr. Rick spots), Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani will fire a high-90s fastball to Astros leadoff hitter Jose Altuve …

And the 2022 baseball season will be on for the reigning, defending, undisputed American League champion Houston Astros. This is odd, tonight will be the first time the Astros and Angels face each other on Opening Day. The game will air on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. The Astros TV crew of Todd Kalas (fourth season), Geoff Blum (seventh season) and the current dean of Astros announcers Julia Morales (eighth season) returns intact.

There is something special about baseball’s Opening Day. It’s practically a national holiday. There isn’t nearly the same hoopla or magic to the start of other pro sports’ seasons in America.

The NFL season begins in September, when days grow shorter, colder weather sets in, kids get homework, and other lousy things happen. The NBA season starts in October, but nobody really notices until Christmas Day.

Maybe baseball’s Opening Day is celebrated more than other sports because it takes place in spring. Ah, spring. The poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “In the spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.” Poet William Wordsworth said, “The budding twigs spread out their fan to catch the breezy air (Lines Written in Early Spring). Perhaps the brilliant philosopher George Costanza said it best, “Spring! Rejuvenation, rebirth, everything’s blooming, all that crap!”

The Astros Opening Day pitcher is Framber Valdez who’ll be squaring off against the Angels’ starter and leadoff hitter (and 2021 MVP) Ohtani. The Angels are -130 favorites. The over/under is 8.5 runs.

History says the Astros are a good bet. The Astros are riding a nine-game Opening Day win streak. That’s tied for the longest Opening Day win streak in history with the Cincinnati Reds (1983-92) and the Detroit Tigers (2009-2017). Remember what Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

But let’s not forget what famed mobster Michael Corleone said on the subject, “If history has taught us anything, it says you can kill anyone.” I wouldn’t make the bet. Ohtani’s pitching/hitting and Mike Trout is back in center for the Angels.

Fun fact: the Astros switched from the National League to the American League in 2013, that means they are undefeated on Opening Day as an American League team

The Astros, then the Colt .45s, won their first Opening Day in 1962 with Bobby Shantz getting the start and the win, 11-2, over the Chicago Cubs at Colt Stadium. In 2017, the Astros' one and only World Series championship season, Dallas Keuchel got the start and win, 3-0, over the Seattle Mariners. Last year, Zack Greinke started and got the W, 8-1, over Oakland.

The Astros’ surefire Opening Day pitcher was Larry Dierker, four starts, 4-0 record. Roy Oswalt got the most Opening Day starts, eight in a row (2003-10) with a 2-4 record. Overall, the team is 32-28 on Opening Days.

The Astros have not revealed who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch when their home season finally begins on April 18. An announcement will be made next week.

Around the league, Billy Crystal will toss the ceremonial first pitch for the Yankees. Tom Hanks will do the honors for the Guardians in Cleveland (side bet on which Astros announcer will call them the Indians first). Joe Burrow will take the mound for the Reds in Cincinnati, astronaut Shane Kimbrough for the Braves in Atlanta, Russell Wilson for the Rockies in Denver, and Ichiro Suzuki for the Mariners in Seattle.

Trivia: since William Howard Taft became the first president to throw a ceremonial first pitch at old Griffith Stadium in 1910, only two presidents haven’t tossed a first pitch during or after their time in the White House. Who are they? (Answer: Donald Trump and Joe Biden.)

The greatest presidential ceremonial first pitcher undoubtedly was Harry Truman. He threw out first pitches all eight years he was in office (1945-52). In 1950 he threw out two Opening Day pitches, one lefty and one righty. It wasn’t a gimmick – Truman was ambidextrous.

The strangest ceremonial first pitch was made by Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez after announcing his retirement in 2012. He stood at home plate at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and fired the first “pitch” to teammate Michael Young standing at second base.

Lastly, in case you thought I forgot …

If the Astros lose tonight, they won’t be able to sell beer the rest of the season. Why?

(They will have lost the opener.)

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The Houston Texans have just a couple of practices before their preseason debut. Here are 11 observations from Tuesday’s workout.

1.The offense stunk on Tuesday. It was inconsistent and resembled more of last year’s disappointing performances than any other practices in this training camp.

2. Davis Mills and his receivers had a few miscommunications on Tuesday. Mills sailed a pass to nobody when he and Brandin Cooks weren’t on the same page. There were some other throws to nowhere in the day. It was something that hadn’t been present at all in training camp to this point.

3. There were a few “good coverage” notes on Tuesday. Not to say there was one specific player, but a handful of team-level efforts that led to the note.

4. It wasn’t all wrong from the offense. After a pass to nowhere Davis Mills and the offense bounced back. It was a second down during a team drill and Mills fired a pass to Chris Moore for six yards. Rex Burkhead would pick up a first down on a rush a play later. A non-positive play last year on first down doomed this team. That hopefully won’t be the case for this year’s team.

5. Chad Beebe is going into his fifth season in the NFL, his first with the Texans. The former Vikings pass catcher has flashed a few times in training camp. He has an uphill battle being new to the team but is trying to make himself a factor.

6. Phillip Dorsett had a big catch over the middle. Davis Mills stood back and delivered as the offensive line held up and Dorsett reeled it in for a huge gain. No defenders were around him. It is between Dorsett and Chris Moore for the chance to be the slot wideout opening day. With Dorsett’s return to practice, it is becoming a fun camp battle.

7.Speaking of returns to practice, Tytus Howard was back. Howard has his reps managed and after practice, offensive line coach George Warhop Howard was “getting his wind” back. When Howard was having his reps managed rookie tackle Austin Deculus played at right tackle. Deculus looks much more consistent than minicamp and OTAs.

8. Kenyon Green is still out with an injury. It is getting to a critical time where the time missed might prevent the first-rounder from starting week one. Max Scharping hasn’t looked bad in his chances with the first team. Offensive line coach George Warhop said they believe in Green and his ability and he has been in meetings to stay up to date.

9. Ka’imi Fairbairn was perfect in one of the special team periods. He drilled all five kicks, each further than the last, and was crushing the football.

10. Derek Stingley was very sticky in some early reps on Nico Collins. The third overall pick is so smooth when he is working. Later his coverage forced a throw from the offense that had no chance of being completed.

11. The play of the day was made by Derek Stingley. The offense was about five or six yards out of the end zone needing a touchdown to win. With six seconds left on the clock, any completed pass that wasn’t a touchdown was game over. Davis Mills dropped back a step and fired to Nico Collins who Stingley covered. The rookie kept the second-year player out of the end zone to earn the defense a win. This was one of the better Stingley days and he did a lot of work. At one point, it looked as though he and Rex Burkhead had some words and almost led to an offense and defense scuffle, but it stayed to just some shouting. The rookie shined today.

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