Don't Let Opening Day Pass You By

Yankees & Red Sox. Under the lights. Fenway Park. Sabathia and Beckett. Couldn't have asked for a better start to the season, especially since the dreaded Yankees lost 9-7. Opening Night lived up to expectations while still packing some surprises. Seriously Yankees? Can't record a scoreless bullpen inning--embarrassing start to the year for the weakest link on the team. They have got to be better. Then again, it was only one game, no need to get carried away.

But this is what Opening Day is about. As I prepare for my personal new year, I know I will jump to similar conclusions about my Texas Rangers in just nine innings of play Monday afternoon. It is part of the beauty of Opening Day; five months of built-up excitement has to escape somehow.  Granted we all settle in with the other five games our teams play the first week of the season, but in that first loss or (hopefully) first win, everything is bigger, every home run glorified, and every meltdown exaggerated.

This is Opening Day. Embrace it. Find your special tradition for Opening Day, for it is not just the first of 162 games, but a day when everyone starts in first place, and half of the teams finish the day in last place. The stakes are high. Me? Well, I continued a relatively new tradition this year; watch Major League and let it lead into the Opening Night Game. Nothing breeds hope in a fan of an inept franchise like Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger turning a loser into a lovable champion--after watching that film, even Washington Nationals fan might be able to claim, "We're contenders now." Whether it is throwing a baseball around with a friend, watching your favorite baseball classic, donning as much team regalia as possible, if you're lucky, heading out to the park for the game, or simply sitting down and watching the game from the first pitch to the 27th out, make sure you don't let Monday pass like any other day.

Opening Day also means the end of the beginning. Spring is over and the season is under way, which means it is a reasonable time to look ahead to the end of the season and how things will shape up. Here's my two cents:

Division Winners:

AL West: Texas Rangers

Sure I am a bit biased, but with Cliff Lee already on the shelf for the Ms and the Angels looking vulnerable, it might finally be the time for Texas to retake the western crown in the American League.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox

They have to be better this year, right? With two guys capable of Cy Young seasons, John Danks and Jake Peavy, and no real holes, the bullpen is lights out and look for the offense to be energized by the addition of Juan Pierre, the comeback of Carlos Quentin and the emergence of Gordon Beckham.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays

This is bold, but I think the Rays add a real big player at the deadline. The owners of Baseball America's best farm system will have the young prospects to add a big-time July piece to outlast the Yankees and Red Sox--why do they make the deal? All-Stars Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford are eight months away from free agency.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

This is a true four team race, and I keep going back and forth on this one. I really have no idea. I think the Dodgers finally fall and the Rockies can only recreate "Rocktober" so many times. The Giants? I guess they lack the bats. Then again, the back end of the Dback's rotation is atrocious. Loaded with young talent though, I think it finally all comes together in the desert.

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

Simple--everyone is really flawed. Cards have the best player in the game, maybe the history of the game. Long live King Albert, as long as he remains healthy.

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

Not even close. No one else has a chance. Even if Reyes, Beltran, Bay, and Wright all play 150 games the Mets have no chance. Phils are too good, and only got better in the offseason, adding Placido Polanco and the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay.

Individual Awards:

Everyone picks the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year, so I thought I would mix it up a little bit.

The Who-is-this-guy?-that-then-becomes-household-name Award: Kyle Blanks of the San Diego Padres

Playing in San Diego will hurt his chances to really get national media coverage but this guy can absolutely rake. He hit 10 homers in just 148 ABs last year and hit .400 this spring. At 6'6" 270lbs, the current left fielder and first-baseman-in-waiting for the friars can also really move--Gold Glove quality defense at first, one of my favorite players to watch in the game. Oh, AND he had the coolest afro in baseball until he cut it.

The Why-Did-We-Forget-this-Guy-was-amazing Award: Grady Sizemore of the Cleveland Indians

One of the most exciting five-tool players in baseball tore up March-ball and seems poised to return to his top-10 form.

The Please-Retire Award: Pedro Martinez (Free Agent)

We remember you as one of the best. Don't tarnish your career anymore than you already have, and end it.

The causes-the-biggest-Tim-Kurkjian-freak-out Award: Jerry Hairston and Scott Hairston of the San Diego Padres

Well, Kurkjian picked NFL player Antwaan Randle El against a bear in a memorable freak-out over the hypothetical question that swept the nation a couple of years ago, but Kurkjian's finest moments are always over some ridiculous thing that happens in baseball. This year? The Hairston brothers will hit back-t0-back homers for the San Diego Padres and Kurkjian's head will actually explode as he compares the unprecedented event to the unlikely father-son back-to-back home run feat by Ken Griffeys Jr. and Sr.

Finally...

The Willy Mays-Hays Award: Julio Borbon of the Texas Rangers

Awarded to the best unknown yet prolific base-stealer, the under-the-radar Borbon will steal at least 60 bases this year. He may or may not hang a pair of batting gloves in his bedroom for each base he steals, nor will he later star in action films like Blade, but the comparison is still worthy.

Happy New Year Everyone. Play ball.

Editor’s Note: This sports column is a regular feature from “The Nightcap” crew,  made up of Ari Zyskind, Nathan Barnett, Dan Campbell, and Kevin Shuai, a group of 5Cers who air a weekly radio sports talk show on KSPC. You can listen in online at KSPCstream.com or KSPC.org (click “Hear us Online via Live365”) every Monday from 8-10 PM.