Opening Day is Here Again; 3 Games to Fill a Quiet Sunday;

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It’s here at last, and if I could come up with a verse I’d sing it to the tune of “Happy Days are Here Again.”  Instead of January 1,  New Year’s Day to me is the day the baseball season opens, and it arrives today with  ball games that count. 3 of these  will be on one of the ESPN Networks rather than the less accessible MLB Network. One that isn’t will be the Cubs-Angels matchup at 4 PM.  All games will be on MLB.com’s Gameday Audio if you like radio better than TV, as I do, but I look with a jaundiced eye on TV, as most blind people do.

To start the day’s festivities  the Pirates host the Cardinals at 1:05 PM EDT. For both teams this is Opening Day number 135 if you can imagine. They have met 33 times to start the year. Adam Wainwright will start for the Cards-his first start since rupturing his achilles tendon last April.  He made a few relief appearances in September and October-a miracle in itself following such a catastrophic injury. This will be his fourth Opening Day start.  His foe will be Francisco Liriano making his third straight Opening Day start with the Buckos.  I was shocked to see it wasn’t Jerritt Cole, my bet as their stud last year.     I’ve chronicled the shredding of the Pirates in this forum.  Pedro Alvarez is in Baltimore.  Neil Walker is with the Mets, a calamity that caused at least one wet pillow in the  hinterland outside of Philadelphia. Charlie Morton is in Philadelphia proper and Antonio Bastardo is a Met, as Walker is. Their third baseman Jung-Ho kang (pronounced Gong) is still recovering  from  the  injury to his left knee suffered last September and begins his season on the DL, so the Gong Show won’t begin in Pittsburgh for a while.    The 100-game winning Cardinals will hope to better last year’s performance when, without Yadiyer Molina and Carlos Martinez they lost the NLDS in 4 to the Cubs.

The middle game features the Miracle Man, Marcus Stroman of the Jays facing down Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays. Good as the pitching matchup is, the game is at one of baseball’s least attractive venues, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Stroman has never been on a big-league roster on Opening Day, much less the starting pitcher. Archer was an All-Star for the first time in 2015.  If anything the Jays are better than they were last year, as they’ll have Troy Tulowitzki for the entire year. They got Darrell Ceciliani from the Mets, and he had the best spring of anybody in camp.  The Rays’ pitching limps out of the starting tate. Their closer Brad Boxberger is on the DL recovering from groin surgery he had last month.  This probably isn’t the time to ask if his favorite ’80’s sitcom was “Groin Pains.”  Starter Alex Cobb had Tommy John surgery last May and is still at least 6 months away.

The last game, to steal from the late and great Jimmy Lennon “needs no introduction to baseball fans the world over.”  It’s the first time ever that the clubs from last year’s World Series open the season facing each other.  To take it a step further, the pitching machup in the Mets-Royals game at 8:30 tonight is the same matchup from both games 1 and 5 of last year’s World Series.

Matt Harvey, the Mets’ drama king in both the positive and negative sense faces Edinson Volquez of the Royals.  Daniel Murphy is no longer with the Mets, positioned to make errors at crucial moments. He’s in Washington where Dusty Baker will try to make sense of last year’s dysfunctional mess, the Nationals.  Neil Walker has Murphy’s old stand at second base. If healthy, Asdrubal Cabrera will be the new shortstop. If not, Wilmer Flores will be there as he was during the series.  Yoenis Cespedes returns to the Mets, who made a last-minute deal against all odds to keep the one booming bat their team has.  The Mets are, first last and always built around pitching, as they were in 1969 with Seaver and Koosman, in ’73 with Seaver, Koosman and matlac and in ’86 with Gooden, Darling and Ojeda.  This year it’s Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Stephen Matz, and (maybe) Zack Wheeler when he finishes his rehab from Tommy John surgery.  Until then Bartolo Colon, all 283 pounds of him is their fifth starter.  The Royals are, well the Royals.  Not flashy, in fact I called them boring before the last postseason began.  But they got it done, to the sorrow of the Flushing faithful.  The one big loss the Royals took was when Johnny Cueto fled the flats of Missouri to make San Francisco his new home.

In sum, you’ve got a full day of the great American game, the game which began as we know it 140 years ago, in the  year the telephone was invented, 1876.  Enjoy the action. This column appears daily throughout the regular season.

Preparing for opening day tomorrow, the Braves designated outfielder Mike Bourn for assignment, so he’ll hope to be Bourn again with another team.  The Brewers have signed the former Met righty Carlos Torres. They’re also bringing former Yankees’ lefty Chris Capuano onto their opening day roster.

Our first Opening Day birthday man was the subject of much talk during the hot stove league.  Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce is 29 today. He’s been with the Reds since 2008 and remains there after so many others have gone. The Beaumont,, Texas native was an All-Stftar in 2011 and 2012. He had been their first draft choice out of high school in 2005.

Mike Lansing is 48 today.  He was in the lineup for the Miami Miracle in the first game my partner and I ever broadcast on radio, back in 1990. They had drafted him using a loophole that existed then allowing independent teams to draft. He put up a .271 average in 9 years between the Expos, Rockies and Red Sox. He made the Expos’ lineup in 1993 when their second baseman Delino DeShields contracted the chickenpox.  You can bet DeShields heard more than a few Wally Pipp jokes when he was on the shelf and Lansing was flourishing. Now, the Pioneer League team the Casper Ghosts play at Mike Lansing Field, as he is a Wyoming native.

Former Mariners’ pitcher Chris Bosio is 53 today. The Mariners got him from the Brewers in 1992 and he stayed a Mariner until his career ended in 1996. He pitched a no-hitter against Boston in April, 1993 almost before his luggage arrived from Milwaukee.  It was the Mariners’ second nono. Boston hasn’t been no-hit since.   He pitched game 1 in the first ALDS against the Yankees. He faced David Cone in a game the Yankees won.  They won the second game in 15 innings, then lost 3 in a row to the Mariners propelling Bosio into his only ALCS.  He is now pitching coach for the Cubs, the third team for which he held that job. When he wasn’t at the major league level he was coaching or scouting in the minors.

Rod Gaspar, best known as an outfielder for the 1969 Mets is 70 today. He was a rookie in that most amazing of years, 1969. In 4 years, between the Mets and Padres he hit .208. He played 118 of the 178 games he ever would play as a ’69 Met. He had been with the Long Beach State 49Ers before going pro. He scored the winning run in game 4 of the World Series. J. C. Martin bunted, the pitcher Pete Richert air-mailed and throw and it hit Martin.  Running from second, Gaspar   scored and the Mets had won the day. Now, he owns an insurance company in Mission Viejo, California. So, when locals get a calendar book with the name of their insurance man, it could just be the former Met Rod Gaspar.

Former Yankees’ pitcher Art Ditmar is 87 today.  He may be best known for a pitch he never threw.  In game 7 of the 1960 World Series,after Ditmar lost games 1 and 5 going 1/3 inning in each,   with Bill Mazeroski up, Chuck Thompson on radio said by mistake, “Art Ditmar throws,” and Mazeroski hit the game-winning home ru.  In truth it was Ralph Terry who had thrown the ball.  Thompson never made any excuses for calling out Ditmar instead of Terry.  Countless replays have since been played and a world of fans think Art Ditmar threw that fatal pitch.  Thompson was offered a chance to record a re-created call using Terry’s name and refused it, expressing a willingness to accept his mistake forever. Ditmar sued Anheuser-Busch for  half a million when they used Thompson’s erroneous replay on an ad.

But just who is Art Ditmar?  He was a righty who played from 1954 to 1962. He began with the Philadelphia A’s in their final year in that city, 1954.  He followed the job to Kansas City, and was traded to the Yankees in 1957. He missed out on the 1961 World Series by being sent to Kansas City, where he ended his career in 1962.  He was on two losing World Series teams-1957 and 1960 and the winning Yankees of 1958.

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