Gil LeBreton

Baseball opening days remain special, memorable, uncomplicated

Opening Day is always special for baseball fans, and it was for Texas Rangers fans on April 1, 2011.
Opening Day is always special for baseball fans, and it was for Texas Rangers fans on April 1, 2011. rodgermallison@star-telegram.com

In no other American sport but baseball does the first day of a new season bring out the hidebound and the angst-bearers, the obsessed and also the ones who think Mickey Rivers still plays center field.

Opening Day remains a ritual. The bunting draped along the grandstands. The hot dogs. The jet flyover. The new team, standing at attention along the baseline.

At the 1994 opener in the new ballpark, we were serenaded stirringly by the late, great Van Cliburn, who performed a Star Spangled Banner for the ages. Two years ago, on the other hand, the Philadelphia Phillies erupted for six runs against the Rangers in the top of the second.

Opening Day can be like that.

In no other sport does Opening Day bring out the media drive-bys who use the occasion to dance on baseball’s alleged grave. You’ve all heard the jackals — baseball is too slow, kids aren’t playing baseball anymore, blah, blah, blah.

The game must be too complicated for them, I suppose.

The Rangers' bats have to face Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in Monday's opener. Cole Hamels starts for Texas (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

But the argument has become trite, and for the most part inaccurate. Baseball earned $9.5 billion in 2015, a worthy second to the NFL’s $12 billion.

Kids are playing baseball. Let me suggest that kids aren’t playing multiple sports as much anymore.

The national pastime? We have none, really, unless it’s updating our Facebook pages.

The game of baseball abdicated the pastime moniker years ago. Baseball remains affordable and its performers approachable.

Too slow? Let me suggest that you count the commercials in an NFL game.

But enough about that. This is baseball’s week. This is the Texas Rangers’ Opening Day.

For the record, the Rangers have a 23-21 record in home openers since arriving from Washington in 1972. Opening Days, we have discovered, are always festive, but the home team isn’t always fortune-blessed.

Tanner Scheppers, who started — started! — that home opener in 2014 allowed seven runs to the Phillies before departing the mound prematurely. Last year’s mood was spoiled when starter Derek Holland abruptly left the game after the first inning.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister discusses the club he has assembled on the eve of Monday's Opening Day against the Mariners (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

The 2015 Rangers struggled out of the starting blocks, building upon a prickly, last-place Cactus League season. Manager Jeff Banister feels a lesson was learned by last year’s slow start.

This spring training’s results, however, were anything but prickly. The Rangers showed a knack for scoring runs from any part of the lineup.

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Banister discovered during the spring that the lineup could flourish with more at-bats from second baseman Rougned Odor. Hence, Odor will lead off against the Seattle Mariners on Monday.

The home run will be back this season, it appears. Prince Fielder has his old stroke back. Mitch Moreland can swing for the fences against right-handers, with Ryan Rua taking over against lefties. And newcomer Ian Desmond is capable of reaching the 25-homer mark.

The key to the season remains the starting pitching, and how left-handers Derek Holland and Martin Perez perform.

The bullpen should be solid.

Again this year there was much anguish spilled about baseball’s opening games being spread over three days and nights. Opening Day should be a national holiday, some argue.

Your baseball team’s Opening Day, however, should always be special. Principals and bosses should understand.

But baseball already has Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July mostly all to itself. Besides, other sports stagger their opening games over several days. It hasn’t hurt the NFL.

Your baseball team’s Opening Day, however, should always be special. Principals and bosses should understand.

With Cole Hamels in the rotation, Martin Perez and Derek Holland healthy and the addition of Ian Desmond to the lineup, Adrian Beltre says the 2016 Rangers are a better team (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

On Opening Day of my freshman year in high school, kindly Fr. Douville shut down our afternoon Latin and English classes in order that we all listen to the major league debut of Rusty Staub, who had walked our Jesuit school’s hallways just two years before.

Rusty, who had just turned 19, batted cleanup for the Colt .45s that day and went 1 for 3 against the Giants.

I remember that. Baseball’s Opening Days usually make memories.

It’s not complicated.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton@star-telegram.com,@gilebreton

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