Last Monday promised to be something special and undoubtedly thatâ€™s what it turned out to be.Â
Opening Day is always a wonderful event: five months of anticipation finally being broken by a batch of games involving some of the best starting pitchers that the Majors has to offer.Â With so many of those games taking place during the daytime in the States, and therefore during the evening in the UK, it made for a magical few hours.Â The excitement just kept building and building as baseball fans were bombarded with news from MLB.com and Twitter, making it almost impossible to keep up with it all.
The action began in Washington where U.S. President Barrack Obama was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.Â Itâ€™s a long-held tradition, a typical set-piece as part of the pre-game ceremonies that U.S. sports excel in.Â Although sometimes cheesy, they always seem to pull it off and in doing so highlight one of the many differences between Americans and Brits.Â Frankly, weâ€™re rubbish at this sort of thing.Â Our equivalent of a Presidential first pitch would be Gordon Brown/David Cameron striding out onto the hallowed turf at Wembley and taking a ceremonial penalty prior to the Community Shield game.Â The very thought of it is enough to make you cringe: it would be horrific.
Somehow, it works in baseball. Obama walked onto the field to a mixture of cheers and boos wearing a Nationals jacket and then displayed his true colours by putting on his White Sox cap before making his pitch.Â No pandering to the masses: heâ€™s a proud South Sider and isnâ€™t going to cover that up in an attempt to claim â€˜heâ€™s a fan of every teamâ€™, or some such highly-spun rubbish.Â Good for him.Â
White Sox fans might not have been quite so pleased by his pitch, hide, wide and not very handsome, but that was soon forgotten when a real White Sox pitcher made a dazzling fielding play in their opener against the Indians.Â Mark Buehrle made a very early bid for â€˜fielding play of the seasonâ€™ with his sprawling, between-the-legs glove flip pass and Paul Konerkoâ€™s nonchalant barehanded catch was the icing on the cake.Â None of the tweets and messages I saw at the time really did it justice, but I donâ€™t think anyone can be blamed for that.Â It was almost beyond description.Â
If Buehrleâ€™s magic trick bordered on unbelievable, Albert Pujols going deep twice on Opening Day was a piece of news that scarcely registered simply because weâ€™ve come to expect such grand statements of sheer greatness from him.Â The Piratesâ€™ Garrett Jones doesnâ€™t have anywhere near the same level of expectations placed on his shoulders, but he matched Pujols with two long balls of his own as the Buccos beat the Dodgers and offered some encouragement that his breakthrough 2009 campaign was no fluke.Â
If Jones was showing he could carry on from where he left off last year, David Wrightâ€™s first inning home run at Citi Field was instead a resounding attempt to leave his long ball struggles of 2009 behind him.Â Â Meanwhile both Yadier Molina and Placido Polanco smacked grand slams, with Todd Zolecki, Phillies beat writer on MLB.com, tweeting the news of the latterâ€™s: â€œPlacido Polanco does the little things well. Moves runners, hits to the opposite field, hits grand slams. Phillies lead, 11-1â€.Â Reading that casual remark gave me my first joyful fantasy moment of the season, Polanco being one of my later round additions.Â Hearing of Neftali Felizâ€™s struggles in relief against the Blue Jays soon brought back me back down to earth though.
Dramatic homers were flying over the outfield fences at regular intervals, and pinging around the outfield in the case of Stephen Drew for his inside-the-park variation on the standard four-bagger, yet none caused such an outpouring of emotion than Jason Heywardâ€™s first inning blast against the Chicago Cubs.Â The debut of the Bravesâ€™ rookie was eagerly anticipated and baseball logic dictated that his first Major League plate appearance would end in a harmless groundout.Â
Heyward stared down logic and then crushed it in superhero fashion.Â
With many looking on, prompted by the countless â€˜Heywardâ€™s up nextâ€™ messages echoing throughout cyberspace, he hit a towering no-doubter into the bullpen at Turner Field.Â The reaction was overwhelming, from the Bravesâ€™ commentators, Heywardâ€™s teammates, his parents celebrating in the stands and the spine-tingling cheers of the crowd.Â No one knows how his career will eventually pan out, for example Jordan Schaferâ€™s wasnâ€™t instantly helped last year by hitting a home run in his first at-bat for the Braves against the Phillies, but the Legend of the J-Hey Kid got a suitable start at least. (Incidentally, nicknames of the A-Rod/J-Roll variety normally annoy me but I love the â€˜J-Hey Kidâ€™, even if linking him to the great â€˜Say-Hey Kidâ€™ Willie Mays is setting expectationsÂ at an impossibly high level).
Heyward stole the show on Opening Day, but he was almost overshadowed by Blue Jays pitcher Shaun Marcum. I highlighted his return from Tommy John surgery in last weekâ€™s WHGB and he was outstanding against the Texas Rangers.Â The first I knew of what was unfolding came when being confronted with various people asking each other whether you could jinx a no-hitter attempt by mentioning it on Twitter.Â Marcum was taking a no-no into the seventh inning and as I logged on to MLB.com to follow it, Vladimir Guerrero spoiled the party with a single.Â The next batter, Nelson Cruz, then hit a three-run home run, catapulting Marcum from a potentially historic performance to a tied game and the drama didnâ€™t end there.Toronto re-took the lead, only to lose to a walk-off single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Marcum was left with a no-decision, scant reward for his outing.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson famously was once moved to state in disbelief: â€œfootball, bloody hellâ€.Â That comment came after his team had staged a late comeback to win the Champions League final in 1999, completing a historic treble.Â
Last Monday was just one day in a long MLB regular season, the sort of day that will be repeated numerous times throughout the next six months and then on to the playoffs in October.Â Yet still it left me thinking: â€œbaseball, bloody hellâ€!Â
What a great sport it is, not that those of us following the action, contributing to forums or tweeting with a #UKMLBFans tag on Twitter, needed any reminding of that.
â€˜Earlyâ€™ games this working week
There are 25 games this working week that are scheduled to begin prior to midnight British time; even the notoriously day-game-free Tuesday offers up three contests.Â
Highlights include all three games of the opening series at Target Field between the Red Sox and Twins (including the opener today), games from the Brewers-Cubs and the Angels-Yankees series,Â some quality pitching match-ups (Rodriguez-Wainwright today could be the best of the bunch) and a Friday day-game from Wrigley Field.Â It will be interesting to see how Javier VazquezÂ responds on Wednesday following his poor performance last time out for the Yankees, whileÂ shoulder soreness may stop Carlos SilvaÂ from building on hisÂ surprisingly effective debut for the Cubs,Â with his scheduled start on Thursday nowÂ in doubt.
Monday 12 April
18.05. Kansas City at Detroit (Luke Hochevar – Max Scherzer)
19.20. Milwaukee at Chicago Cubs (Doug Davis – Ryan Dempster)
20.05. Texas at Cleveland (Rich Harden – Francisco Carmona)
20.05. Washington at Philadelphia (Jason Marquis – Cole Hamels)
21.10. Boston at Minnesota (Jon Lester – Carl Pavano)
21.15. Houston at St. Louis (Wandy Rodriguez – Adam Wainwright)
23.35. Atlanta at San Diego (Jair Jurrjens – Kevin Correia)
23.40. Oakland at Seattle (Justin Duchscherer – Ryan Rowland-Smith)
Tuesday 13 April
18.05. Kansas City at Detroit (Brian Bannister – Dontrelle Willis)
18.05. LA Angels at NY Yankees (Ervin Santana – Andy Pettitte)
21.10. Arizona at LA Dodgers (Ian Kennedy – Clayton Kershaw)
Wednesday 14 April
18.05. Kansas City at Detroit (Kyle Davies – Rick Porcello)
18.05. LA Angels at NY Yankees (Joel Pineiro – Javier Vazquez)
18.10. Boston at Minnesota (John Lackey – Kevin Slowey)
18.35. Tampa Bay at Baltimore (Davis Price – Brad Bergesen)
19.20. Milwaukee at Chicago Cubs (Dave Bush – Randy Wells)
20.45. Pittsburgh at San Francisco (Charlie Morton – Jonathan Sanchez)
Thursday 15 April
17.05. Texas at Cleveland (Colby Lewis – David Huff)
18.10. Boston at Minnesota (Tim Wakefield – Francisco Liriano)
18.40. Houston at St. Louis (Bud Norris – Kyle Lohse)
19.20. Milwaukee at Chicago Cubs (Jeff Suppan – Carlos Silva Carlos Zambrano)
20.05. Washington at Philadelphia (Garrett Mock – J.A. Happ)
20.10. NY Mets at Colorado (Mike Pelfrey – Jorge De La Rosa)
23.35. Atlanta at San Diego (Tim Hudson – Mat Latos)
Friday 16 April
19.20. Houston at Chicago Cubs (Felipe Paulino â€“ Carlos Silva)
All the above games can be followed via various resources on MLB.com (Gameday, At Bat with Gameday Audio and MLB.tv), while ESPN Americaâ€™s MLB schedule can be found here. A complete schedule of MLB games can be found on MLB.com.