Everything you wanted to know and more as Cougars open tournament against Northern Kentucky

The action starts Thursday night for the Coogs!Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images.

Houston has hosted more than its share of mega-monster sports moments and events – Super Bowls, World Series, Final Fours, college basketball’s “Game of the Century,” the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, Muhammad Ali title fights and more.

But if, and let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the University of Houston makes it to the Final Four held at NRG Stadium April 1-3, and, fingers crossed, wins the NCAA basketball championship …

That will be the cherry on top of the biggest, most exciting, happiest sports week in Houston history. This city will absolutely lose its flippin' mind. Yeah, that's how big the Final Four is.

Don’t forget, the week from March 30 to April 5 also has our World Series champion Astros opening their 2023 season with home series against the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. Opening Night March 30 will feature the unveiling of the 2022 World Series banner, and the Astros will receive their championship rings the following night.

The Astros and Final Four will go head-to-head on Saturday, April 1 and Monday, April 3. The Astros will be giving away Jeremy Pena World Series MVP bobbleheads on April 1. The promotion for April 3 is a package deal - a ticket, soda, hot dog and popcorn for $22.

All this excitement, of course, has a price. For Astros Opening Night, the cheapest tickets on the secondary market run from $99 in the upper deck to more than a grand for field level.

That’s peanuts, with or without popcorn, compared to tickets for the NCAA championship game on April 3. Those are selling for $200 for seats in the heavens all the way to $7,000 for courtside tickets.

The March Madness Music Festival at Discovery Green will be held Friday, March 31 to Sunday, April 2 and will feature Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Nas X, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Maggie Rogers, Little Big Town and more. Tickets will be free, but you have to register to claim them at

If the University of Houston wins the title … look out below! There will be a parade downtown that will rival the celebration following our World Series triumph last year. Just call us “Championship City.”

UH coach Kelvin Sampson will own this town and cement his legacy as an all-time beloved coach and Houston icon. It will only add to the frenzy that this year marks the 40th anniversary of UH’s heartbreaking loss to NC State in the 1983 championship game. Revenge is a dish best served cold on a basketball court.

Jim Nantz, a UH grad, will be calling play-by-play for his 33rd and final Final Four on CBS in his adopted hometown of Houston. Talk about wrapping things up with a nice bow.

The Final Four is big stuff, one of the most-watched sports events in the U.S. Last year, with Kansas topping North Carolina, the championship game attracted 18.1 million viewers. That’s more than the NBA Finals (16.9 million), World Series (14.3 million), Masters golf tournament (13.6 million) and Wimbledon (7.5 million).

The 31-3 Cougars are currently the (+500) betting favorite to be crowned champions. That means if you bet $10 on UH you can win $50 – and possibly a free mattress from some local “furniture salesman.” (Just kidding, love ya Mack.)

The next favorite is Alabama at (+800) meaning if you bet $10 on the Crimson Tide you can win $80. Among the ultimate longshots is Northern Kentucky University, the Cougars’ first-round opponent. The Norse (odd nickname for a school in Kentucky) are listed at (+100,000), meaning if you bet $10 on them, and they win the whole shebang, you’ll be $10,000 to the good. But don’t bet on it.

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Play ball! Composite image by Jack Brame.

Nothing puts an exclamation point on the arrival of spring like baseball’s Opening Day.

“Beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today, we’re born again, there’s new grass on the field” – John Fogerty, rock ‘n’ roller in Centerfield.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring” – Baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby.

“Opening Day. All you have to do is say the words and you feel the shutters thrown wide, the room air out, the light pour in. In baseball, no other day is so pure with possibilities” – Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mary Schmich.

"Spring! Rejuvenation, rebirth, everything’s blooming, all that crap” – Pretend latex salesman George Costanza.

The Houston Astros, born 1962, will play their 62nd Opening Day game at 6:08 p.m. Thursday against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park. Megan Thee Stallion will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, Mark Wahlberg will holler “play ball” and the Astros will begin the defense of their 2022 World Series title. The national anthem will be performed by Cody Johnson.

There will be a pre-game street festival outside the stadium from 3-6 p.m. There will be live music, (oh no) face painting and photo booths, corn hole and, of course, beer and food glorious food. You’ll need a ticket to the game to get inside the street fest gates, however. The game officially is sold out, but literally thousands of tickets are available, at a marked-up price, on secondary market sites. It’s the new economy, that ain’t so new anymore.

The Astros are riding an MLB record 10 consecutive Opening Day wins. Astros starters have an incredible 1.20 earned run average during the streak. Both Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander started three Opening Day games during the stretch, all Astros victories. Framber Valdez will be on the bump for the Astros in their 2023 opener. He started and won last year’s opener, 3-1, outdueling Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani. The way the Astros stick with Opening Day pitchers, this could be the start of things to come for Valdez.

Roy Oswalt had the most Opening Day starts, eight in a row between 2003-10. Shane Reynolds started five Opening Day games in a row from 1996-2000. Mike Scott started five openers in a row from 1987-91. J.R. Richard started five in a row from 1976-80.

Bobby Shantz started the first Astros (then the Colt .45s) opener in 1962, a complete game 11-2 win over the Cubs at Colt Stadium.

Down through the ages, the Astros franchise has a 33-28 record on Opening Day. The team with the most successful Opening Day record is the New York Mets, 40-21, for a .656 winning percentage.

After 61 seasons, the Astros-Colt .45s finally pushed their all-time won-loss record over the .500 mark last season. By winning 106 regular-season games and going 11-2 in the postseason, the Astros now have an all-time mark of 4,831 wins and 4,820 losses.

This year, for the first time in baseball’s modern era, every team will play every other team during the regular season. While the Astros won’t be meeting (beating) their traditional American League West rivals like the Angels and Rangers 19 times each, they’ll make up for it by playing National League patsies Pirates, Rockies, Marlins, Reds and Nationals.

All 30 teams will open their season on Thursday. All 30 teams also will be in action on Jackie Robinson Day on April 15. They’ll do the same on Roberto Clemente Day on Sept. 15.

While MLB is making changes like the new schedule, bigger bases, pitch clock and no shift, maybe it’s time to put a different name on spring training. Spring? Teams arrive in Florida and Arizona in early February, the dead of winter, and they’re practically breaking camp on March 21, the first day of spring. I guess “winter training” is too gloomy an image, though.

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