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Ken Hoffman on the Houston Astros chances and why Opening Day hits different

Ken Hoffman on the Astros chances and why Opening Day hits different

Jose Altuve in Game 7 of ALCS
All Star and MVP Jose Altuve will lead off on Opening Day. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

At precisely 8:38 pm Thursday, April 7 Houston time — give or take a brief delay for yet another Progressive Insurance commercial (love the Dr. Rick spots) — Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani will fire off a high-90s fastball to Houston Astros leadoff hitter Jose Altuve.

And with that, the 2022 Major League Baseball season will be on for the reigning, defending, undisputed American League champion Houston Astros.

This is odd: April 7 will be the first time the Astros and Angels face each other on Opening Day. The game will air on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. The Astros TV crew of Todd Kalas (fourth season), Geoff Blum (seventh season), and the current dean of Astros announcers Julia Morales (eighth season) returns intact.

Opening Day hits different
There is something special about baseball’s Opening Day. It’s practically a national holiday. There isn’t nearly the same hoopla or magic to the start of other pro sports’ seasons in America.

Speaking of hoopla...

The NFL season begins in September, when days grow shorter, colder weather sets in, kids get homework, and other lousy things happen.

The NBA season starts in October, but nobody really notices until Christmas Day.

Maybe baseball’s Opening Day is celebrated more than other sports because it takes place in spring. Ah, spring. The poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “In the spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.”

Poet William Wordsworth said, “The budding twigs spread out their fan to catch the breezy air (Lines Written in Early Spring).

Perhaps the brilliant philosopher George Costanza said it best, “Spring! Rejuvenation, rebirth, everything’s blooming, all that crap!”

The Astros Opening Day pitcher is Framber Valdez who’ll be squaring off against the Angels’ starter and leadoff hitter (and 2021 MVP) Ohtani. The Angels are -130 favorites. The over/under is 8.5 runs.

Bet on our boys
History says the Astros are a good bet. The Astros are riding a nine-game Opening Day win streak. That’s tied for the longest Opening Day win streak in history with the Cincinnati Reds (1983-92) and the Detroit Tigers (2009-2017). Remember what Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

But, let’s not forget what famed mobster Michael Corleone said on the subject: “If history has taught us anything, it says you can kill anyone.” I wouldn’t make the bet. Ohtani’s pitching/hitting and Mike Trout is back in center for the Angels.

Fun fact: the Astros switched from the National League to the American League in 2013, that means they are undefeated on Opening Day as an American League team.

The Astros, then the Colt .45s, won their first Opening Day in 1962 with Bobby Shantz getting the start and the win, 11-2, over the Chicago Cubs at Colt Stadium.

In 2017, the Astros' one and only World Series championship season, Dallas Keuchel got the start and win, 3-0, over the Seattle Mariners. Last year, Zack Greinke started and got the W, 8-1, over Oakland.

The Astros’ surefire Opening Day pitcher was Larry Dierker, four starts, 4-0 record. Roy Oswalt got the most Opening Day starts, eight in a row (2003-10) with a 2-4 record. Overall, the team is 32-28 on Opening Days.

The Astros have not revealed who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch when their home season finally begins on April 18. An announcement will be made next week.

Around the league, Billy Crystal will toss the ceremonial first pitch for the New York Yankees. Tom Hanks will do the honors for the Guardians in Cleveland (side bet on which Astros announcer will call them the Indians first).

Joe Burrow will take the mound for the Reds in Cincinnati, astronaut Shane Kimbrough for the Braves in Atlanta, Russell Wilson for the Rockies in Denver, and Ichiro Suzuki for the Mariners in Seattle.

Opening Day trivia
Since William Howard Taft became the first president to throw a ceremonial first pitch at old Griffith Stadium in 1910, only two presidents haven’t tossed a first pitch during or after their time in the White House. Who are they? (Answer: Donald Trump and Joe Biden.)

The greatest presidential ceremonial first pitcher undoubtedly was Harry Truman. He threw out first pitches all eight years he was in office (1945-52). In 1950 he threw out two Opening Day pitches, one lefty and one righty. It wasn’t a gimmick — Truman was ambidextrous.

The strangest ceremonial first pitch was made by Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez after announcing his retirement in 2012. He stood at home plate at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and fired the first “pitch” to teammate Michael Young standing at second base.

Lastly, in case you thought I forgot...

If the Astros lose tonight, they won’t be able to sell beer the rest of the season. Why?

They will have lost the opener. 

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