The Week Ahead: Last of the home openers
Seven teams debut in front of their own fans Monday, with final two going on Tuesday
They've come to the end of a long road, and they can finally see the bright lights of home.
For nine Major League teams, the beginning of the 2013 season was a character-building journey of airline miles, hotel beds, raucous opposing crowds celebrating their home debuts, and uniforms stitched in grey.
Monday and Tuesday will change that.
Seven of those nine clubs will enjoy their home openers on Monday, one will partake on Tuesday, and all the frills and fanfare will go along with it.
It might have taken a while, but it will have been worth it.
In St. Louis, it'll be Reds vs. Cardinals at Busch Stadium, and while it'll be a celebratory welcome back to the boys who almost made it to the World Series last year, it'll be a somber, reflective mood. That's because it will be the first home opener since the death of Hall of Famer and team and city icon Stan Musial earlier this year.
Long before St. Louis left-hander Jaime Garcia toes the slab against Reds righty Mat Latos in the 3:15 p.m. CT start, the red-clad crowd will honor Musial in a pregame ceremony, a prelude to a full tribute on Friday, when the team will dedicate a plaque in honor of "The Man."
On Monday, Musial's four children will unveil an outfield wall marker as part of the Opening Day ceremony that begins at 2:30 p.m., with the Budweiser Clydesdales, and the ceremonial first pitch to be delivered by former Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen, who will throw to former St. Louis outfielder Jim Edmonds. Isringhausen and Edmonds are new members of the Fox Sports Midwest Cardinals pregame and postgame broadcast team.
Monday's openers will span from one legendary baseball city to another, when Fenway Park hosts its season opener. The Orioles vs. Red Sox matchup is set to commence at 2:05 p.m. ET in the old ballpark along Yawkey Way.
Clay Buchholz will start for the Red Sox against Baltimore lefty Wei-Yin Chen on a special day for the Sox, who will pay tribute to the team's charity, the Jimmy Fund, honoring its 60th anniversary with a performance by a choral group. The club will also keep its flyover tradition alive with the appearance of two vintage P-51 Mustangs, which first entered World War II combat in December 1943.
The Red Sox will play 17 home games in this month, the first season in 23 years that Boston had had as many as 17 home games scheduled in April, and only the second time in the 113-year history of the franchise.
"I'm really looking forward to it," new Red Sox catcher Mike Napoli said. "This is my first Opening Day in Boston. When I went and played there before, it was always exciting. I can imagine it's going to be a little sweeter being on the right side. I'm excited. I'm going to have family in town, it's going to be a fun day for me, I'm going to enjoy it and take everything in."
Opening Day festivities will also extend to Wrigley Field in Chicago, where it'll be the Brewers vs. Cubs at 1:20 p.m. CT, with Chicago starter Edwin Jackson taking on Milwaukee right-hander Marco Estrada. The forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of rain.
"There's only one Opening Day at home," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "It's always a special day, the feeling, the atmosphere and all that, and the fans. Hopefully, we have good weather or decent enough weather."
Over in Cleveland, Yankees vs. Indians will be the featured attraction for the home opener at Progressive Field, and it will be Ubaldo Jimenez for the Tribe against Hiroki Kuroda for the Bronx Bombers in the 4:05 p.m. ET start.
Fans will receive a magnet schedule and one of Cleveland's newest stars, outfielder Nick Swisher, will present, along with his wife, JoAnna, a check worth $75,000 to Providence House, a Cleveland shelter that works to assist at-risk families.
Ceremonial first pitches will be delivered by the the fathers of Indians players Swisher (Steve), Michael Brantley (Mickey) and Zach McAllister (Steve), as well as bench coach Sandy Alomar (Sandy Sr.) and manager Terry Francona (Tito).
The Indians will try to add to their 58-54 record in home openers and even up their 2-3 record in home openers against the Yankees.
An American League Central rival of the Indians will enjoy its home opener Monday, too. At Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, it'll be Royals vs. Twins, and Kansas City will try to get its 2013 season off to a good start in front of its favorite crowd.
The Royals' new-look roster will be trying to win behind one of its newest starters, right-hander Ervin Santana, who will be opposed by Twins righty Kevin Correia in the 3:10 p.m. CT start.
It'll be the 40th anniversary at "The K," and a pregame ceremony will begin at 2:30 p.m., and will honor Billy Butler as the 2012 Silver Slugger Award winner at designated hitter in the AL and outfielder Alex Gordon will be presented with his second Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
Then it'll be on to Miami, where Braves vs. Marlins will begin the 81-game slate at Marlins Park. Kevin Slowey will take the ball for Miami against Braves left-hander Paul Maholm in the 7:10 p.m. ET start.
Slowey said he's excited to pitch a home opener for a new, young team.
"There's a lot of excitement," Slowey said. "There are a lot of guys who are really looking to make a name for themselves and to kind of carve out a niche for themselves in the Major Leagues. There's a lot of opportunity and a lot of enthusiasm."
When the Safeco Field crowd is treated to Monday's final home opener, Astros vs. Mariners, Seattleites on hand will revel before their starter, Joe Saunders, throws the first local Mariners pitch of the season.
That's because Jamie Moyer, the winningest pitcher in the history of the franchise, will do the ceremonial first pitch honors, and it's likely he won't throw the ball that much slower than he did during his career.
More intrigue will be on tap in the form of Houston starter Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game here last April 21 as a member of the White Sox.
Meanwhile, Safeco will pull out the ceremonial stops with Seattle band Pickwick performing three songs, the first run around the bases by 11-year-old Marlee Burkett of Sammamish, Wash., a Make-A-Wish child who underwent a recent liver transplant, and fireworks during the introduction of the revamped Mariners lineup.
Seattle is 21-15 all-time in the first home game of the season, including going 6-5 in home openers after starting on the road.
On Tuesday, Petco Park will be visited for the first time this season for Dodgers vs. Padres, and San Diego will try to rebound from a difficult road trip.
Clayton Richard will take the hill for the Padres against Dodgers righty Josh Beckett in the 3:40 p.m. PT start.
San Diego is 22-22 all-time in the first home game of the season, and Tuesday will mark the second straight and third time in the last five seasons that the club has faced the Dodgers in its home opener.
The final home opener of the season will take place with A's vs. Angels in Angel Stadium. Angels lefty C.J. Wilson will go up against A's righty Jarrod Parker in the 7:05 p.m. PT start.
The AL West rivals will go at it for the first of many times this year, and Wilson says it's about time his team hit Anaheim.
"It's always fun to start an opener," Wilson said. "The home opener is going to be exciting -- the home environment … It's always cool."