Everything gets overblown on Opening Day. That's the fun of it. True, it's just the first game of a long season, just one of 162, but every baseball fan knows Opening Day is more than that. It is hope. It is rejuvenation. Opening Day, corny as it may sound, is
Everything gets overblown on Opening Day. That's the fun of it. True, it's just the first game of a long season, just one of 162, but every baseball fan knows Opening Day is more than that. It is hope. It is rejuvenation. Opening Day, corny as it may sound, is a love letter to the game.
You see it everywhere Monday, coast to coast. In Boston, at beloved Fenway Park, you see Tom Brady chasing around Rob Gronkowski, who has just stolen his Super Bowl jersey. Again. They are like a couple of kids who skipped school to catch a baseball game. After that settles down, the game begins, and the most exciting rookie in baseball, Andrew Benintendi, mashes a long home run. All of New England is in love again.
In Arizona, Cleveland's Jason Kipnis sits in the stands for the NCAA men's basketball final. He is injured, and it is his birthday -- Kipnis is 30 -- and seeing this game is the treat he gives himself. But he does not watch the game. Instead, he stares at his phone and watches on MLB.TV as his Tribe comes back from four runs down against the Rangers in Arlington. New teammate Edwin Encarnacion hits the key home run. Cody Allen closes it out. The defending American League champs are 1-0. Kipnis is enthralled.
In Baltimore, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado makes a play that so boggles the mind, it still makes no sense at all after the 10th viewing. He dives for the ball, gets it, that part adds up. But then, from his knees, falling backward, he somehow throws the ball across the diamond for the out. It is Machado's world, and we're all happier because of it.
In Houston, George Springer hammers a leadoff homer off Seattle's legend, Felix Hernandez. A few minutes later, Carlos Correa hits one out of Minute Maid Park. Oh, that Astros team is going to score some runs.
This is the joy of Opening Day. It has been a long, cold winter. Snow. Ice. A cold wind. But then you see Michael Trout mash a home run on a dead line, 113-mph exit velocity; Statcast™ shows he hit only one home run harder all of last year.
You see Clayton Kershaw do Clayton Kershaw things: 7 innings, 2 hits, 8 strikeouts, 0 walks.
You see Minnesota's Byron Buxton -- we have been waiting for his extraordinary talents to emerge -- make the first Statcast™ five-star play of the season, a full-stretch dive for a sinking line drive.
And winter is over.
Perhaps more than anything, Monday belonged to Washington's Bryce Harper. Opening Day, it seems lately, always belongs to him. The greatest players tend to thrive on Opening Day. Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn have the record with eight home runs on Opening Day. Right behind them, with seven, are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Eddie Mathews. All of them, except Dunn, are Hall of Famers, and few players hit balls farther than Adam Dunn.
Harper came into Monday's game with four home runs in his four Opening Days, something no other player had ever done. There's something about the buzz of Opening Day, the big crowd, the big stage, that seems to inspire him. In a way, it's his Opening Day magic that best tells the Bryce Harper story. His career, so far anyway, has been both breathtaking and spotty, mind-blowing and injury-plagued, awesome and disappointing. It's hard to believe he's still just 24.
But Harper is just 24, and still no player in the game sparks the imagination or awakens possibilities quite like him. When he's right, when that swing is locked in, you get the feeling that he can do anything.
When Harper comes up in the sixth inning against Miami's David Phelps, with his Nationals down, 2-0, and looking lifeless, is it too much to ask for him to hit a home run? After all, he hit one on Opening Day last year. Harper hit one on Opening Day two years ago. In his first Opening Day, he crushed two home runs, leaving 2014 as his only Opening Day without a homer. It is too much to ask for more.
Harper promptly launches a 419-foot home run. The Nats rally and win. Harper is on pace to hit 162 home runs. He probably won't get there. But on Opening Day, it's all possible.
Joe Posnanski is an executive columnist for MLB.com.