Somebody asked me on Twitter today if I played left field for the Rangers. I do not. But I do give a pretty mean weather report, and right now in Pittsburgh it is creeping toward 60 degrees with a bright sun and some light wisps of clouds high above. It is a pleasant change from the cold, overcast conditions that usually accompany Opening Day in Philadelphia (actually, most early-spring days in Philadelphia). The sun is glittering off the Allegheny River and everybody is walking around with a spring in their steps, probably because this is the one day of the season that will begin with the Pirates owning a share of first place. Hey, we all love Opening Day. Growing up in the Poconos in the mid-1990's, I would often attend the home opener at Lackawanna County Stadium each season, where I would cheer on Jon Zuber and Kevin Jordan and other future middling big leaguers. Other days, after shoveling my driveway, I would tune in to 590-WARM and listen to the Phillies games. Once they were mathematically-eliminated from the postseason, I would turn my attention toward the NFL Draft.
Anyway, after covering the last four Phillies Opening Days, I've come to realize that the first day of the season is a lot more significant for teams like the Pirates, who, let's face it, won't have many other days to look forward to this year, than it is to the Phillies, who know that as long as their three aces stay healthy, they will be right in the thick of the playoff race.
That might not have been true at the start of the 2008 season, when the competitiveness of the team really was up for debate. Back then, April felt like a referendum on the team's big picture prospects, even if it did not turn out that way.
Now, things are different, and as last year proved, the only thing that is guaranteed on Opening Day is that we will over-react to whatever happens.
Last year, the winning pitcher on Opening Day was Danys Baez. A ninth-inning rally against the Astros was jump-started by a Ben Francisco RBI single. Also driving in runs were Wilson Valdez and John Mayberry Jr. By August, Baez was released, Francisco was buried on the bench, Mayberry was bouncing back from a demotion to the minors, and Valdez was a utility man (albeit the People's Utility Man).
Truth is, we'll know as little about this team tonight as we do right now. In the first 10 games of last season, Francisco hit .308 with a .386 on base percentage and .513 slugging percentage with two home runs, seven RBI and seven runs in 44 plate appearances. The rest of the way, he hit .232/.336/.668 with four home runs in 249 plate appearances.
Placido Polanco finished April hitting .398/.447/.668 with 19 RBI and 18 runs in 114 plate appearances. Over his next 57 games he hit .216/.276/.261 with 20 RBI and 16 runs in 244 plate appearances before going on the disabled list on July 5.
The biggest questions about this team -- can they stay healthy? can they hit consistently? whither Ryan Howard and Chase Utley -- will not be answered in one day or one week or even one month. The only thing we can look for is signposts. Every game is part of a larger plot, one chapter in a 162-page season.
All of us realize that. And, chances are, all of us will ignore it at some point. Then again, the ability to do so is one of the allure's of following sports.