NLCS rematch highlights Friday's home openers
Tigers, Rangers, Orioles, Rockies, Phillies also open home slates
Championships will be honored, National Anthems will take on extra meaning, fans will be back in their most comfortable seats, and, yes, baseball will be played.
Friday not only brings about another full slate of Major League action, but it brings about the 2013 home openers for six teams, all of whom have special reasons to celebrate the kicking off of another 81 games in their favorite ballparks.
Here's a primer on the six-pack of home openers set for Friday:
Giants vs. Cardinals It's fitting that when the Giants start their home season at AT&T Park on Friday and raise their 2012 World Series championship flag before their game against the Cardinals, they'll give the ball to the pitcher who got it all rolling for them when they needed it most last October.
Left-hander Barry Zito, who won Game 5 of last year's National League Championship Series with his team facing elimination in St. Louis, will face off against Cardinals right-hander Jake Westbrook in a 1:35 p.m. PT game.
"I would like to stay focused on what I have to do and my process and not get caught up too much in the festivities," Zito said. "It's going to be great for the fans, obviously. That's for them to enjoy. But for us, we have to focus on our tasks."
Giants fans, who have sold out 165 consecutive home games since their World Series championship season in '10, have a lot to look forward to if statistics hold. The Giants have won 10 of their past 12 home openers, including four in a row.
Tigers vs. Yankees Another flag will be on display on Friday, when the reigning American League champion Detroit Tigers play the first game game at Comerica Park. They were last seen there on Oct. 28, when the Giants closed out a four-game World Series sweep, but the team will proudly unfurl its AL champion banner for the city to see, and they'll play the team they beat in the AL Championship Series -- the Yankees.
The game, which is scheduled to start at 1:08 p.m. ET, features Tigers righty Doug Fister against Yankees righty Ivan Nova and will include the flag raising plus recognition of active military and veterans, the National Anthem as performed by Motown legends The Four Tops and a moment of silence in memory of Virgil Trucks, a member of the Tigers' 1968 World Series championship team. Former Tigers great Willie Horton will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Tigers fans will also get a good look at their newest outfielder, Torii Hunter, who signed with Detroit over the winter.
"It's going to be crazy, electrifying, and it's going to be a lot fun," Hunter said. "These guys are just going off winning the ALCS, getting to the World Series, and the support system's going to be crazy, bigger than I've probably ever been a part of. Because I've never been on a team that's been to the World Series and won the ALCS. This will really be my first time experiencing this."
Rangers vs. Angels The Rangers' home opener at the Ballpark in Arlington will be dramatic from a baseball and a non-baseball perspective.
On the baseball side, it will mark the return of former Rangers great Josh Hamilton, who left for the Angels via free agency in the offseason, capping off a memorable five years in Texas that saw him make five All-Star teams, win an AL Most Valuable Player Award and help the team to two World Series. Hamilton said he's expecting a mixed reaction from the fans.
"I don't know if I can say there will be more claps than boos, or more boos than claps," Hamilton said. "It's something I'm not going to think about or stress about. When it happens, it happens."
Before that happens, and minutes before the game, which pits Rangers left-hander Derek Holland against new Angels southpaw Jason Vargas at 1:07 p.m. CT, there will be real-life drama, when Robbie Parker throws out the ceremonial first pitch.
Parker, who grew up in Texas as a Rangers fan, is the father of Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old girl who was among the 26 people who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last December in Newtown, Conn.
Orioles vs. Twins Baltimore's huge turnaround season of '12 will not be forgotten when the Orioles return to Charm City and beautiful Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday for their 60th home opener. The game, which begins at 3:05 p.m. ET, will be against the Twins, and there's plenty of fanfare on tap.
For one, the ballpark will open at noon, allowing fans to celebrate 2013 with a car magnet and relive '12 with a viewing of "The BUCKle Up Birds: An Underdog Story" on the center-field video board. After the crowd enjoys the National Anthem as performed by operatic tenor Rolando Sanz and watches a 30-by-42-foot American flag from Fort McHenry unfurled over the batters' eye in center field, Orioles faithful will watch as three of their favorite players -- shortstop J.J. Hardy, center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters -- receive the Gold Glove Awards they won last year.
And then there will be a baseball game, with Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta making his first start of the season against Twins righty Liam Hendriks, and O's first baseman Chris Davis coming in scorching after a series in Tampa Bay in which he went 7-for-11 with three home runs and 11 RBIs.
"I feel comfortable in the box," Davis said. "We've had a few runners on when I'm up at the plate, which is always fun, 'cause if you get a hit, those guys are going to score.
"When you feel good at the plate, when things are going right for you, you're going to get those hits. I'm just trying to keep it rolling."
Rockies vs. Padres Has it really been 20 years? The Rockies will be reveling in the two-decade anniversary of their 1993 arrival on the Major League scene all season, and it'll start in their home opener at Coors Field, which is slated for a 2:10 p.m. MT first pitch from Rockies lefty Jeff Francis, who will be opposed by San Diego righty Jason Marquis.
Several members of that original '93 team will be on hand to take part in pregame festivities, and for most Rockies fans, Friday will represent another chance to honor one of their legends -- Todd Helton, whose contract is up after '13. Helton hasn't said whether this year will be his last, but he did say that he's looking forward to a classic Denver lid-lifter.
"Every Opening Day at Coors Field is awesome," Helton said. "Well, not awesome. A teenager would use the word awesome. But it truly is spectacular. The pageantry. It's better than a football game. A crisp baseball game, especially at Coors, it symbolizes spring. Everybody's spirits are up. It's a good time."
Phillies vs. Royals The Phillies are back at Citizens Bank Park for their home opener on Friday, with the Interleague game against the Royals set for a 4:05 p.m. ET first pitch. Kyle Kendrick will take the ball for the Phillies against Royals right-hander Wade Davis, who will be making his first start for Kansas City after being traded from the Rays in the offseason.
The Phillies salvaged one game from their season-opening three-game set against the Braves, beating Atlanta, 2-0, on Thursday night, and will head home to a party.
The '13 Phillies will make their way through the ballpark gates with a "Leadoff Walk" into Citizens Bank Park, escorted by the Cardinal O'Hara High School marching band and the Phillie Phanatic, and all fans will receive a custom-designed Rally Towel that was selected through an online vote by the fans.