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.