Stephen Strasburg on the mound at Wrigley Field, pink flamingos in center field at Miami. Vin Scully at the microphone, Prince Fielder in Motown.
Young and old, fresh and familiar, baseball is set to start all across America. A week after Ichiro Suzuki, Yoenis Cespedes and the rest of Athletics and Mariners began in Tokyo, everyone else gets a turn at opening day.
Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay are warmed up, and so is the weather. From Citi Field to Petco Park, the forecast is perfectly playable — none of those flurries and freezing temperatures that intruded at the start in past years are expected.
Josh Johnson, one of several big stars coming back from injury-shortened seasons, threw the first pitch Wednesday night at new Marlins Park.
Jose Reyes and the Miami starters were escorted onto the field by young women dressed as Latin showgirls. Moments later, Muhammad Ali rode into the ballpark and delivered the first ball.
Carlos Beltran then produced the first hit and World Series MVP David Freese opened the scoring with a two-run single. That got the champion St. Louis Cardinals, minus Albert Pujols for the first time in more than a decade, rolling in a stadium with a decidedly South Florida flair.
“It looks like a spaceship,” Cardinals rookie manager Mike Matheny said.
Seven more games were on the schedule Thursday.
Fielder takes his first swings with the Detroit Tigers when they host the Boston Red Sox and new manager Bobby Valentine. Scully begins his 63rd season in the broadcast booth when the Los Angeles Dodgers, soon to have Magic Johnson’s touch, visit San Diego.
Strasburg, one of baseball’s faces for the future, starts for the Washington Nationals against the Chicago Cubs.
“Opening day — it is an honor and stuff,” he said. “But it’s not what I play for. You want to play for the games in October.”
For now, that stuff is plenty. Especially for fans growing weary of watching their stars get hurt, wrecking preseason predictions and fantasy picks.
The DL lineup from spring training could fill out an All-Star team: Chipper Jones will start his farewell tour in the trainer’s room, along with Chase Utley, Chris Carpenter, Carl Crawford, Michael Pineda and more.
It was especially rough for relievers, with Joakim Soria, Ryan Madson, Andrew Bailey and Joel Zumaya having severe setbacks. Plus add the likes of Ryan Howard, John Lackey and Joba Chamberlain, who were already out.
Johan Santana, however, is ready to start the opener for the New York Mets on Thursday when they host Atlanta. The two-time Cy Young winner was out of the majors last year while recovering from shoulder surgery.
“I’m happy to have the opportunity to start the season from Day One with the team. That’s something I was really looking forward to,” he said.
Buster Posey and Adam Wainwright are among the other big names returning from major injuries. Andy Pettitte is coming back, too, after ending his one-year retirement.
Also on Thursday’s schedule: Toronto at Cleveland, Philadelphia at Pittsburgh and Miami at Cincinnati.
The rest of the teams open Friday. That’s when Pujols makes his debut as his Los Angeles Angels host Kansas City. The two-time AL champion Texas Rangers get a visit from the Chicago White Sox and new manager Robin Ventura, while the New York Yankees are at Tampa Bay.
Colorado opens at Houston on Friday. The next day, Jamie Moyer starts for the Rockies at age 49 against the Astros — out of the majors last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, he could become the oldest pitcher to win in the majors.
“I’ve accomplished some things for myself, just knowing where I am and going through a spring training,” he said this week. “Now it’s all for keeps, so it’s go out there, be prepared and that makes it a little bit easier.”
Rookies to watch include Tampa Bay lefty Matt Moore, who made a brilliant start in the playoffs, and Texas ace Yu Darvish, the Japanese star who struck out 11 in a six-inning start in spring training.
Still to seen, meanwhile, are whether old pros Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui or Roy Oswalt will play a part this year in postseason race expanded to include 10 teams. Stars for so long, none of them had a job on opening day.