The opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday and Friday signifies complete sports-watching mayhem and gets the adrenaline pumping pretty quickly. Similarly, the first Sunday of the NFL season riles everyone up with excitement after a seven-month football layoff.
For the past few years, however, my preference is Major League Baseball's Opening Day. No other sports opening day can match the excitement I experience when the first pitch is thrown to jump start another baseball season.
I began to think why that is. The most obvious reason is that I enjoy watching the Texas Rangers play more than any other sports team.
But it's the dorky stuff that really puts baseball's Opening Day over the top. It's the lineup cards that you formulate in your mind the entire winter taking shape from 1 to 9. It's how well your ace pitches, and what order the manager brings in relievers out of the bullpen in certain key situations. It's following your fantasy baseball team's players when numerous games are played simultaneously, giving it somewhat of a March Madness vibe of switching the channel at a rapid pace to find your guys.
I also like Opening Day because it's usually associated with optimistic weather (it's supposed to be 68 and sunny Friday afternoon in Kansas City, where I'll watch the Rangers host the White Sox to open the season), but that's just a supplemental aspect of the main event.
When the Rangers take the field at 1 p.m. in Arlington, they will be doing so as the two-time defending American League champions. There's a certain level of expectations the team has brought upon itself, but winning creates expectations. The Rangers should be expected to make the postseason again this year with essentially the same roster as last year (add Yu Darvish and Joe Nathan, subtract C.J. Wilson).
Here are the top 5 things I'm looking forward to following on Opening Day:
5. Royals at Angels: I'm curious to see how the Angels look after spending their life savings on Albert Pujols and Wilson over the offseason. I expect Anaheim to be neck-and-neck with Texas for the majority of the season in the standings. Furthermore, I'll be interested to see if the Royals (a team with which I'm quite familiar, between friends and K.C. sports radio) can take any of these three games in Anaheim. Granted, trotting out Bruce Chen for the opener against Jered Weaver is akin to rolling the dice on me vs. Brock Lesnar in a steel cage wrestling match - it's just asking for trouble - but strange things happen on Opening Day. Maybe K.C. can steal one (or three). I'll certainly be rooting for the boys in blue.
4. Colby Lewis: The Rangers have the luxury of a deep pitching staff (that also includes Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Neftali Feiz), but no one is a sure-fire ace - yet. Lewis' ceiling for the rest of his career is probably a No. 2 who you can count on in the playoffs, but Darvish, Holland and Feliz have the stuff to reach ace potential. I'll be curious to see how Lewis pitches in the opener, in relation to former Ranger/current White Sox ace John Danks.
3. Nelson Cruz: The right-fielder suffered a bruised elbow after being hit by a pitch on Tuesday in an exhibition game, tempting us to locate the panic button for missed time. He's supposed to be ready to roll for Friday, but I'll be keeping a close eye on how comfortable he looks at the plate and in the field. He's also one of my starting fantasy outfielders, the first time I've ever had the injury-prone Cruz in any league.
2. Elvis Andrus: He's my favorite Ranger because of his range on defense from shortstop, and his speed on the base paths, but I'll be watching a different element to his game on Opening Day: his gap power. I've read a few stories on how Andrus bulked up over the offseason in an effort to drive the ball more to the gap. Andrus was listed as 200 pounds last season, but is more around 215 entering this year. The amount of doubles he's hit in three years in the show: 17, 15, 27. Home runs: 6, 0, 5. I'm hoping both of those go up this year. Maybe 30 doubles and 10 home runs.
1. The Rangers batting lineup: 1-9, we undoubtedly have one of the best lineups in the game. I can't wait to see the guys swing the bats. Here's how it's looking: 1. Ian Kinsler; 2. Elvis Andrus; 3. Josh Hamilton; 4. Adrian Beltre; 5. Michael Young; 6. Nelson Cruz; 7. Mike Napoli; 8. David Murphy; 9. Mitch Moreland.
Let the games begin.
As James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams so eloquently stated: "The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again."