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Leading off: Opening Day 2014

MLB baseball is back at last

	<p>Derek Jeter and the Yankees lost to the Houston Astros Tuesday in their first game of the season. Major League Baseball is back, and columnist Kerry Mitchell is glad for it. </p>

Derek Jeter and the Yankees lost to the Houston Astros Tuesday in their first game of the season. Major League Baseball is back, and columnist Kerry Mitchell is glad for it.

It’s been a long winter. We endured a dull Super Bowl and frustration at the Olympics (USA hockey, why?), and March Madness now threatens to destroy us all, if it hasn’t already. But all the while, the MLB has stayed quietly holed up in sunnier lands to prepare for what has finally arrived.

Opening Day is not a national holiday yet — keep at it, Ozzie, I’m with you — but it sure felt like one for baseball fans. Monday alone was full of storylines that, in the course of 162 games, will only get better — or at least, more interesting.

Derek Jeter could suddenly forgo his final season to take up with the Peace Corps and the 2014 season would still be remembered first and foremost for the introduction of the expanded replay system. Naturally, all eyes were watching to see how it would fare in its figurative first day of school: would it fit in? Would everyone hate it? Would the big kids take its lunch money? So far so good, though — the replay’s first day was relatively uneventful, but as the season progresses, that could change.

Speaking of controversy, let’s talk Ryan Braun. After serving his 65-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, the Brewers outfielder received a standing ovation from his home crowd. Braun and other alleged or reformed PED users will, as always, be a hot topic this season in baseball. Or, if they’re not, we always have “riveting A-Rod headlines”: to entertain us.

But Opening Day isn’t about innovation and scandal alone. Oddly enough, there’s also actual baseball, which — in terms of classic sports clichés — was good, bad and ugly.

So who was good? Well, lots of people.

To no one’s surprise, Mike Trout wasted no time in starting his third season off right, crushing a two-run home run in his very first at-bat. Guess the Angels are getting their $144.5 million worth — good thing, too, since the rest of their fading-star-studded lineup combined for four hits in a 10-3 loss.

Another no-surprise Opening Day star was 2013 NL Rookie of the Year and Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who struck out nine in six innings. Pitching excellence was not limited to Miami, of course, as Adam Wainwright and the rest of the St. Louis staff blanked the Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals have been pegged as postseason contenders since before Spring Training began, and they, along with other early favorites — Tampa Bay, Washington, Detroit — started the year off right. Meanwhile, another powerhouse — the defending champion Red Sox — lost at the hands of the Orioles and Nelson Cruz.

So a few teams lost. That’s bad, but what’s really bad? To start with, the Atlanta Braves’ pitching staff is bad. Badly hurt, that is. Atlanta fans may have watched their postseason hopes go out the window before the season even started with announcement after announcement of injuries to their starting pitchers.

But hey, at least they’re not Angels hitting coach Don Baylor, who broke his leg catching the ceremonial first pitch, of all things. Throw in the much-hyped Cincinnati speed demon Billy Hamilton’s golden sombrero and an early installment to the Bryce Harper Injury Report — he’s fine, can we move on now? ­— and there you have the bad of Opening Day.

Which brings us to the ugly. Oh, Chicago. Cubs fans really are an admirable bunch; they bring a whole new meaning to the word “optimism” and they patented the term “Wait till next year!” Day one of this — the alleged “next year” — was actually not a total disaster as the Cubbies truly battled the talented Pittsburgh Pirates, but their 10-inning loss does not bode well for the rest of the season. Of course, the Cubs have company in the form of the Houston Astros, whose glory days ended when they were swept in the Fall Classic of 2005. Note to Houston, y’all have a problem.

The Cubs and Astros probably won’t make it past September this year, but neither will many other teams. A 162-game season leaves open the potential for preseason favorites to collapse and for perennial bottom-dwellers to add yet another tally to the past few — or hundred — years of frustration. However, fans of champs and chumps alike can agree on one thing: it’s far better to watch your baseball team lose than to be in the dead of winter, not watching baseball at all.

The 2014 MLB season is finally here, sports fans. Play ball.


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