HOUSTON - - Well, it is that time of the year for all the Houston Astros fans worldwide to listen for those three words that are sweet music to their ears.
“Let’s Play Ball!”
The reigning World Series champions will begin defending their title on Thursday, Opening Day for Major League Baseball, against the visiting Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park. Houston is 33-28 all-time on Opening Day.
“I am not really concentrating or thinking about last year,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker when asked about the emotions on Opening Day after finishing the season as the champions. “You have to go on from there because you have new heights to climb. This is the start of the “Great Race,” and it is a long race."
“The fans are excited, and everyone told me that they can’t wait. So, we have to use that energy and emotions in our favor but try to have enough inter-calmness not to let it overwhelm you and play the game and play effectively.”
The Astros have won ten consecutive Opening Day games, a Major League record that ties the MLB all-time record. They also look to continue their streak of ten consecutive home Opening Day victories.
Starting pitcher Framber Valdez will be making his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Astros. He won his first start last year against the Los Angeles Angels by throwing 6.2 scoreless innings while striking out six batters and allowing just two hits in Houston’s 3-1 victory.
“I have seen a tremendous amount of growth in Framber every year,” Baker said about Valdez, who is replacing 2022 American League Cy-Young Award winner Justin Verlander as the Astros ace. “The guy is getting more and more mature. He is getting more confident.”
“I think those games that we played in the 60 games (Covid Season 2020), really help the growth process and confidence in a lot of these guys. Framber, (Cristian) Javier, (Luis) Gracia. They were forced to grow up in a hurry compared to the guys who came in the league at the same time they came in the league. We have to remind Framber to just go be Framber and pitch and not put pressure on him because he is the Opening Day starter.”
One prominent Astros mainstay missing from the lineup Thursday is second baseman Jose Altuve. He was placed on the 10-day IL and is expected to miss up to two months with a fractured right thumb sustained while playing for his home country of Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
“I am expecting a miracle on Jose,” said a laughing and hopeful Baker about Altuve’s return.
To celebrate Opening Day and the raising of the World Series banner, Houston has native Cody Johnson throw out the first pitch. In contrast, Grammy Award-Winning artist Megan Thee Stallion throws out the ceremonial first pitch. Actor Mark Wahlberg will make the “Play Ball” call.