A lot of it, honestly, is structure.
Sure, there's also spring, renewal, rebirth, hope, cut grass and sunshine, hot dogs and family bonding and nachos in miniature helmets. All good things, and all good reasons to be happy that baseball is back. Still, I think structure is a bigger part of Opening Day joy than it gets credit for.
At some point, a new school year stops being the way you mark the passage of time. For some that becomes New Year's Day, but, for serious baseball fans, it's Opening Day. (There is some debate about whether or not Opening Day should be capitalized. The answer: Yes). It's also when our much-needed routines are returned to us. The days have a focal point again, and a rhythm, and a progress you can count on.
Baseball is year-round, sure, when it comes to news, to the hot stove, to discussion and debate. But trades and signings break at random times and on random days. You can't set your watch to them or plan your days around them. And you can't really sit down with a beer, watch a trade and spend a few hours forgetting your worries, denigrating umpires, luxuriating in the announcers' favorite worn stories or mocking them, marveling at great plays and second-guessing bullpen usage.
Like most people when they're young and don't know any better, I used to think of structure as a bad thing. And, when that structure comes in the form of high school, well, it is. But as you get older it becomes apparent that for all but the most self-motivated souls, structure is actually vital. Without it, we quickly get lost. We stay up too late and watch too much TV or spend too long watching cute animal videos and get lost in our own heads. And while that describes a great weekend day, it becomes pretty bleak over time.
So structure is good, and baseball is the best and most pleasant kind of structure. Things get back to normal this week. That means, for me, watching the Mets or the Yankees game while I eat dinner, then flipping around to any great pitching matchups or big games, then turning on the Dodgers game if Vin Scully is calling it, or whatever seems most interesting if he's not, and leaving it on in the background while I work. It means knowing it's time for bed when the last west coast game is over, and marking time by distance to the All-Star Game, the trade deadline and the playoffs.
There are a lot of reasons to prefer baseball to all other sports, but one of the biggest, for me, is its daily-ness (which is not a word, but should be). This is what makes it so great for those of us who are, no offense, a bit on the obsessive side. Except for those few rough days around the All-Star break, you are rarely more than 24 hours from your next game, the next building block of the summer.
The joy of day-to-day baseball is in the details, and if there's one thing baseball fans will never, ever run out of, it's details. So, getting more specific and concrete, here are 30 things to look forward to this season.
We made it, everyone. It's going to be okay now.
For all the brotherly Upton excitement, the player on the Braves who's playing in his own league is closer Craig Kimbrel. It's asking a lot for him to replicate his otherworldly 2012, but anything in the same vicinity will still be amazing/alarming, depending on whom you're rooting for.
I am not entirely on board with Kirk Gibson's Grit-'n'-Guts Desert Spectacular plan, but I am looking forward to watching Brandon McCarthy this season, both because he seems like a smart, funny guy and because his injury last year at the wrong end of a line drive was one of the scarier things I've seen in a game. I can't imagine pitching again after something like that is easy.
Buck Showalter. I realize most fans are probably most excited about top prospect Manny Machado or maybe seeing Dylan Bundy around mid-season, but I want to see to what extent all those one-run wins last season were luck and how much was managerial skill. The last writer for this site who suggested the Orioles might not win the AL East was set upon and devoured by comment-section wolves, so I'll just stop right there.
Boston Red Sox
Very little would surprise me about the Red Sox this year -- 78 wins seems possible, so does 92 wins (on a related note, I am terrible at predictions) -- but whatever happens, the team has the chance for a fresh start. No more Bobby V, no more vitriol, no more chicken-and-beer jokes. Also while Jackie Bradley Jr. probably should not have started with the major league team, on the plus side, now we all get to watch him.
It's really a very nice ballpark. And Alfonso Soriano's contract is drawing to a close. And they have a pair of great names in Starlin Castro (who can also hit) and Darwin Barney (…who has a great name). You know what, though: this time next year, I bet this segment is going to be a lot more exciting.
Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale is the straightforward answer here, but for a certain kind of fan with a certain kind of bent, Adam Dunn's stat line is the most mesmerizing aspect of any White Sox season. Seemingly every year he gets closer and closer to embodying the "three true outcomes." Is this the season he manages to only walk, strike out and homer in any given at bat, with no pesky base hits to ruin the purity?
Joey Votto is Joey Votto, but Aroldis Chapman's fastball is the shiniest of shiny baseball objects and I can't stop staring at it.
Cleveland made some nice moves this winter, in an indication that they would not be punting on this season while rebuilding. Watching Michael Bourn play center is a joy, as is seeing Carlos Santana hit, but I am perhaps most curious to see if Nick Swisher can set a new record for single-season "bro" usage. Bet the over.
Healthy Troy Tulowitzki. We haven't seen him in awhile. Good-hitting shortstops are hard to find these days and Tulowitzki, assuming he's all better, is a guy you can build a team around.
Someone needs to start collecting photos of the expressions on opposing pitchers' faces as they face Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder back-to-back.
Adversity builds character. And, though there are not yet a lot of scientific studies to back this up, so does measuring things in Altuves.
Kansas City Royals
Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler and Alex Gordon have not really broken through to league-wide fame yet. Fine: More of them for Royals fans. And while James Shields may not be the Instant Contending Potion, Just Add Water that the Royals' front office seemed to think he was, well -- he's still really good.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Mike Trout. Nothing against Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton, but there's just nothing like rooting for a homegrown star. Especially one whose first year was one of the greatest ever. Sky's the limit.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are a killer one-two punch. And though the Dodgers are not exactly what you could call underdogs, it's easy to root for redemption for Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Both are paid well for their troubles, but you know last year had to be miserable for them. A good year on a new team and everyone -- at least everyone outside of New England -- will forget all about it.
I'm sorry. I can offer you nothing but anger, emptiness, and Giancarlo Stanton's homers feeding the bottomless hunger of the glorious Marlinstrosity beyond the outfield wall ...
It's not the kind of drama you usually hope for from baseball, but Ryan Braun vs. The World should certainly be interesting. Off the field, MLB is trying uncharted legal tactics to try to get him suspended; on the field, he's one of the best hitters in the game, a pleasure to watch -- if increasingly a complicated one.
So maybe it's not going to be the easiest year for Twins fans, but tell you what: Joe Mauer looked scary good in the World Baseball Classic. When he's right, that swing is the prettiest thing in the ballpark. Also, the cheese curds at Target Field are awesome. Things could be worse. (Safety tip: Do not stare directly at the starting rotation).
New York Mets
Gary, Keith and Ron. That's actually not intended as a dig at the on-field talent -- though there are digs to be made, there will also be legitimate bright spots -- but rather a tribute to just how good the Mets' TV trio is. They want the team to do well, but they're not going to whitewash anything, and they've got a genuine, endearing rapport even when the game is dull as dishwater. You don't turn off late west coast blowouts because hearing Keith chat about his dogs' fear of thunderstorms is much more pleasant than it has any right to be.
New York Yankees
Mariano Rivera. The one Yankee that nobody can hate (… well, almost nobody) is retiring. And while it's entirely possible that the hype machine will have us all sick of hearing about this by June, if not sooner, it is not really possible to get sick of watching Rivera pitch. Savor it, bottle it, bring it out in future years and explain to your grandkids how Mo was better than everyone.
There are a lot of likeable, underdoggish players in Oakland, and in true A's style, some of the best probably aren't even on the team yet. Yoenis Cespedes is no underdog, though, at least when it comes to hitting, and so among the scruffy underrated fellows I look forward to some big, slow, booming home runs.
A few days ago, I would have written some blather about the pitching staff. But after seeing this the other day:
Let's face it: Nothing is going to top that this season. Nothing.
Okay, so this is not the year that the Pirates are going to shock the world and make the playoffs, but .500 is in reach, and while that might sound a bit condescending in some places -- "hey neat, mediocrity!" -- at this point, that would not be nothing in Pittsburgh. That fanbase deserves all the good things, but we can start with 81 wins and another monster season from Andrew McCutchen and a breakout from Starling Marte.
San Diego Padres
Now that the fences have moved in, Padres fans might get to see an actual "Home Run" being hit in person for the first time in years. Also, if Chase Headley is for real -- and his finger heals okay -- that would be pretty sweet, even aside from all the Hedley Lamarr jokes it makes possible ...
San Francisco Giants
You guys just won the World Series. You don't need any help here. Run along and come up with some more animal-themed nicknames for the few players who don't have one yet.
Seattle has enjoyed watching Felix Hernandez plenty even with the specter of free agency and trade following him around like a rain cloud, but now the only rain when King Felix starts will be literal wetness, not metaphoric doom. A benevolent monarch is one of the best forms of government.
St. Louis Cardinals
Like many fans these days I have a sort of love-hate thing going on with the Cardinals, or maybe a respect-hate thing. They just keep winning, over and over, even when it seems like they should not, and it's getting boring -- except, you have to give them credit, too, because how do they keep pulling it off? Anyway, after the Rally Squirrel and the Infield Fly, I morbidly look forward to finding out what plushable animal they'll be selling in October after their next inevitable, improbable run. The Foul-Pole Fowl? RBI Rat?
Tampa Bay Rays
David Price won the Cy Young last year (and even if you think it should have gone to Justin Verlander, Price was extremely good), but mostly I want him to do well because that means more pictures of his dog, Astro, who advanced metrics indicate is definitely the best dog in the majors. Manager Joe Maddon's bulldog Winston is less experienced, but could be ready to take the next step.
Yu Darvish was supposed to be adjusting to the Majors last year, and he was really good anyway -- and while maybe that goes both ways, with the league adjusting to him too, I'm looking forward to seeing the guy settled in. Of course, if (or really, when) uber-prospect Jurickson Profar comes up this, this answer becomes: Jurickson Profar Jurickson Profar Jurickson Profar.
Toronto Blue Jays
Did you even have to ask? Of course it's R.A. Dickey: there's almost nothing better than a knuckleballer at the top of his game, unless it's an erudite fan-friendly anti-sex-trafficking ulnar-collateral-ligamentless Star Wars enthusiast knuckleballer at the top of his game. (A healthy Jose Reyes is very close, though).
Too many to choose from, really -- Nationals fans have gone from stoic suffering to swimming in a Scrooge McDuck-style pool of gold in a whiplash-inducing timespan, though, of course, looking back you can see the progression clearly -- but Stephen Strasburg Unplugged probably heads the pack.