Stephen Strasburg on the mound at Wrigley Field, pink flamingos in center field at Miami. Vin Scully at the microphone, Prince Fielder in Motown.
Young and old, fresh and familiar, baseball is set to start all across America. A week after Ichiro Suzuki, Yoenis Cespedes and the rest of the Athletics and Mariners began in Tokyo, everyone else gets a turn at opening day.
Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay are warmed up, and so is the weather. From Citi Field to Petco Park, the forecast is perfectly playable – none of those flurries and freezing temperatures that intruded at the start in past years are expected.
Josh Johnson, one of several big stars coming back from injury-shortened seasons, threw the first pitch Wednesday night at new Marlins Park.
Jose Reyes and the Miami starters were escorted onto the field by young women dressed as Latin showgirls. Moments later, Muhammad Ali rode into the ballpark and delivered the first ball.
Carlos Beltran then produced the first hit and World Series MVP David Freese opened the scoring with a two-run single. That got the champion St. Louis Cardinals, minus Albert Pujols for the first time in more than a decade, rolling toward a 4-1 win in a stadium with a decidedly South Florida flair.
It looks like a spaceship, Cardinals rookie manager Mike Matheny said.
Seven more games are on the schedule today.
In Cincinnati, Joey Votto got a big payday by staying in a small market, agreeing to a $251.5 million, 12-year deal with the Reds on Wednesday that is the longest guaranteed contract in major league history.
The agreement adds $225 million over 10 years to his previous contract. The deal includes a club option for 2024, when the 2010 National League MVP turns 41.
After watching NL Central rivals St. Louis and Milwaukee lose their first basemen to bigger markets, the Reds secured Votto with a package that easily eclipsed Ken Griffey Jr.’s $116.5 million, nine-year deal from 2000 as the largest in franchise history. In the majors, it trails only Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million and $252 million deals, both over 10 years.
Is it risky? said owner Bob Castellini, who sought a lot of outside advice before signing off on the deal. No doubt. That’s the environment we live in, especially as a small market. We feel Joe will be a cornerstone.
It wasn’t an easy decision for the 28-year-old Votto to make such a long-term commitment. He decided he had found contentment in Cincinnati, which took him in the second round of the 2002 amateur draft.
Maybe I could have found that elsewhere, Votto said. Maybe not. But I like what I’ve got here.
Votto gets base salaries of $9.5 million this year and $17 million in 2013 under his previous agreement. The new deal includes salaries of $12 million in 2014, $14 million in 2015, $20 million in 2016, $22 million in 2017 and $25 million in each of the following six seasons. The Reds have a $20 million option for 2024 with a $7 million buyout.
In Detrot, Fielder takes his first swings with the Tigers when they play host to the Boston Red Sox and new manager Bobby Valentine. Scully begins his 63rd season in the broadcast booth when the Los Angeles Dodgers, soon to have Magic Johnson’s touch, visit San Diego.
Strasburg, one of baseball’s faces for the future, starts for the Washington Nationals against the Chicago Cubs.
The DL lineup from spring training could fill out an All-Star team: Chipper Jones will start his farewell tour in the trainer’s room, along with Chase Utley, Chris Carpenter, Carl Crawford, Michael Pineda and more.
It was especially rough for relievers, with Joakim Soria, Ryan Madson, Andrew Bailey and Joel Zumaya having severe setbacks. Plus add the likes of Ryan Howard, John Lackey and Joba Chamberlain, who were already out.
Johan Santana, however, is ready to start the opener for the New York Mets on Thursday when they play host to Atlanta. The two-time Cy Young winner was out of the majors last year while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Buster Posey and Adam Wainwright are among the other big names returning from major injuries. Andy Pettitte is coming back, too, after ending his one-year retirement.
Also on today’s schedule: Toronto at Cleveland, Philadelphia at Pittsburgh and Miami at Cincinnati.
The rest of the teams open Friday. That’s when Pujols makes his debut as his Los Angeles Angels play host to Kansas City. The two-time AL champion Texas Rangers get a visit from the Chicago White Sox and new manager Robin Ventura, while the New York Yankees are at Tampa Bay.
Colorado opens at Houston on Friday. The next day, Jamie Moyer starts for the Rockies at age 49 against the Astros – out of the majors last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, he could become the oldest pitcher to win in the majors.