Opening Day. The day when everything begins anew, when the pomp and pageantry enthrall us before it finally gives way to the first game of a new season. People tend to get eloquent when it comes to Opening Day.
Granted, if you are looking for eloquence and poetry, you are probably in the wrong place. That doesn’t mean we won’t at least give it a stab.
As part of his famous speech in Field of Dreams, Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) says the following:
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”
Baseball does mark the time. While Mann was lionizing baseball’s past and what it means to people, the past is also relevant by how it contextualizes the present. As Cardinal fans, we’ve watched the team evolve from (in my case) Ozzie Smith to Ray Lankford to Matt Morris to Albert Pujols to Chris Carpenter to the current crop of Redbirds. When Matt Carpenter hits 55 doubles to set a team record, that means more when it was one of Stan Musial‘s marks. We love the past, but we love the present more.
Baseball marks the time in other ways. Even though there still may be places around the country where there is white stuff on the ground and coats are going to be part of today’s wardrobe, Opening Day means spring is here. The weather will cooperate soon enough, but we put all our thoughts of winter away now, packing them up to bring them out after the last out of the World Series.
The milestones of the season coordinate with so much of our lives. The quarter pole is Memorial Day, the unofficial kickoff to summer. The All-Star Break comes right around the Fourth of July, as we hit the apex of the season right when we start beginning to realize that summer doesn’t last forever. The pennant races heat up as the kids are going back to school. Finally, those last regular season games are played as the air starts to become cool and crisp, as if God is showing His sadness that the season is coming to a close.
All of that is before us, though, and there is no reason to try to live in the future. We always look and anticipate what is to come, but for today, at least, we should enjoy the moment. Even though the Cardinals will not be playing at Busch Stadium today, even though we have to wait a week for Clydesdales and Hall of Famers and a sea of red and the first opener at Ballpark Village, there is plenty to revel in on this first day of the 2014 season.
Before we take a look at today’s game, though, we should acknowledge a few things that went on this weekend. First, even though the rainout in Memphis meant St. Louis didn’t get one last look at some competing folks, Keith Butler was tabbed as the winner of Survivor: Bullpen, going north with the team while Scott McGregor, David Aardsma and Jorge Rondon stayed behind. Butler had a shaky spring, with seven walks and seven strikeouts in 9.2 innings and an ERA just under 9.00. None of the others stood out either and with Jason Motte getting closer day by day, it may be a bit of a moot point. Butler does have options and that makes it easy to send him back to Memphis should the Cardinals need to do so, even before Motte is ready. As with last year, it’s likely the Cards will expand their roster a bit by running a frequent Memphis shuttle.
The other bit of news is that Mark Ellis will start the season on the disabled list, meaning Pete Kozma is going to get to ride in a red convertible next Monday. While the DL stint is backdated a few days, it’s still disappointing that Ellis, whom the Cardinals paid $5.25 million to during the offseason, won’t get to start the season with the club as I’d been looking forward to seeing what he brought to the table and it also means that the bench is just that much weaker. For all the talk about improving that aspect of the club, most of the same people will make it up this season. No wonder Mike Matheny has talked about not double-switching out folks as much this year.
So now it begins. We’ve got a fresh slate, the Heroes and Goats board has been cleared off (goal for this year, to get that its own page rather than under the links), and we can talk about games that matter.
Adam Wainwright goes to the hill for the Cardinals to open the season. Of course he does. When you have a legitimate ace, one of the top pitchers in all of baseball, he gets the ball for your opener. That’s the way baseball goes and Wainwright fits that bill to a T.
That said, as I wrote in the first Bird’s Eye View for the season (if you aren’t subscribed to the United Cardinal Blogger’s email series preview newsletter, sign up here and I’ll forward it to you), you’d kinda like to see Wainwright take the hill against someone besides the Reds for the most confidence in starting the season 1-0. His career ERA against them is over 5, inflated of course by the two outings at the end of last year that Cincinnati completely manhandled him, including one game where he barely got out of the second inning. This is not his most ideal matchup.
For as much damage as they’ve done, the overall numbers aren’t as ugly as you might expect. Jay Bruce and our old pal Ryan Ludwick have put up some nice numbers, but the others are more in line with what you might expect of other teams off of Waino.
I mentioned this on Gateway to Baseball Heaven last night, but last year when Wainwright was struggling against the Mets, Yadier Molina did extra homework to come up with a plan of attack, a plan that worked. Given the extra time Yadi’s had–he could have started thinking on this in January if he wanted–plus the fact that Wainwright has some new pitches and new approaches, I feel pretty confident we won’t see another ugly outing from the ace, a man who really wants to win an Opening Day for once.
I know that, especially since 2010, there is a sizable portion of the fan base that doesn’t care for the Reds. If you are a regular reader of this space, you know that I’m not one of them. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Redlegs, especially since my father-in-law has been a Reds fan since he was a kid and the game is one of our major topics of conversation. They’ve just not been that evil empire to me.
That said, I’m never going to care for Johnny Cueto. His kick that knocked Jason LaRue into retirement hasn’t sat well with me or with most Cardinal fans and, as such, it would give even more pleasure to win today and beat him. The problem is–and probably part of why he infuriates people so–is that he isn’t the easiest person to knock off.
Even though Cueto has had a lot of success in his career, the Cardinals have been able to solve him from time to time. His career mark against St. Louis stands at 4-4 with a 4.66 ERA. Given his injuries, the last time the Cards faced him was April 17, 2012, when he gave up just one run in seven innings, but Cincinnati lost 2-1 in 10 innings.
It’s interesting to see Jon Jay‘s career numbers against Cueto and you wonder if that’s going to factor into Matheny’s lineup decisions. Obviously, Peter Bourjos would normally be manning center field and that’s why John Mozeliak made that trade. However, those are some strong numbers for Jay against today’s starter. Though since it’s been so long since the team has seen Cueto, I’m not sure how relevant that is. Jay’s not had the results in the last year or so that he was having earlier in his career. No matter if he starts or not, when Jay takes the field for the first time, he’ll be the first Top Goat of the past year to play a game for the club the next year. (Last year’s runner up, David Freese, got taken off the roster instead.)
Later this morning, we’ll celebrate Opening Day by opening up the final voting on the Favorite Living Cardinal Tournament. Two Hall of Famers will enter, but only one will be left standing tomorrow afternoon. Be sure to come back and make your pick!
Baseball is back. The soundtrack of our lives returns. From here on, most every day we’ll be able to turn on Fox Sports Midwest and watch the game, to get on Twitter and Bonfyre and talk about the game as it happens, to even have Mike Shannon and John Rooney on in the background while we mow the yard or enjoy time out with the family. This is what we live for. Forget all those other modifications of the saying, baseball is how we know God loves us and wants us to be happy.
Right now, we are extremely blessed to be Cardinals fans. We’ve seen two World Series in three years and been right on the brink of a third. We’ve got a team that is considered the premier organization in baseball, the team that folks look to and try to emulate. We’ve got a team that’s got good young players all up and down the lineup or on the pitching staff. We have veterans like Wainwright and Molina and Matt Holliday that are considered at the top of their class. We have so much good stuff there’s not room for folks like Oscar Taveras or Stephen Piscotty just yet, which means more quality talent will be hitting the major leagues soon.
This is the time. Mark it.