Richard Justice

Opening Day a moment to savor, celebrate

New season offers so much promise to all 30 big league clubs

Opening Day a moment to savor, celebrate

Welcome to the best day of the year. Say goodbye to the offseason. So long to Spring Training. No more dress rehearsals. This is the real thing.

Opening Day symbolizes something different to every baseball fan, which is why it stands alone as a moment to savor and celebrate. In that way, it's a uniquely personal national holiday.

For some, it's Andrew McCutchen flying across the outfield to make one of those plays that take your breath away. Enjoy the show, Pittsburgh, every last second of it. Years from now, you can tell them you were the lucky ones who got to see this amazing guy play baseball.

Must C: Trout's leaping grab

In Southern California, they feel that way about Mike Trout, don't they? Here's to an incredible player and to all the thrills he'll give all of us in 2015. Clayton Kershaw is like that, too. At his best, he's as good as anyone who has ever lived and a reminder that there's never been a better time to be a baseball fan.

So let's raise our voices in appreciation of Buster Posey and Miguel Cabrera, of Felix Hernandez and Madison Bumgarner, of Robinson Cano and Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Altuve and the others.

We salute all of you on this Opening Day. We celebrate the return of Matt Harvey to the New York Mets and to familiar faces in new places, including Max Scherzer with the Nationals, Jon Lester with the Cubs, Matt Kemp with the Padres, Jason Heyward with the Cardinals and the irrepressible Jimmy Rollins, now of the Dodgers.

We offer a tip of the hat to the San Francisco Giants for defining excellence, winning the World Series three times in five seasons with class and smarts and resilience. We offer a nod of appreciation to the St. Louis Cardinals for their commitment to excellence. We do the same for the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, model organizations all.

Bradley's solid start

Let's also appreciate a new generation of stars, from Archie Bradley and Joc Pederson to Taijuan Walker and Gregory Polanco. Perhaps more than ever before young players are being entrusted to make a difference right at the start of their careers.

Others are on the cusp -- Kris Bryant of the Cubs, Carlos Correa of the Astros and Corey Seager of the Dodgers. The Rays, Blue Jays, Athletics and Cubs are counting on young kids to carry them right into October, and wouldn't that be a magical accomplishment?

Mets-Yankees? Cubs-White Sox? Those are legitimate debates in New York and Chicago. There's a good one in Southern California, too, where the Padres, Dodgers and Angels all think a championship is possible.

Why not? This season begins amid the backdrop of unprecedented competitive balance. There's no favorite team in 2015.

The Dodgers, Cardinals, Angels and Red Sox couldn't be more optimistic about 2015. On the other hand, the Mariners, Marlins, Padres, Cubs and Pirates are excited, too.

Baseball's landscape has changed so much in recent years that it's hard to grasp it all. It's a new day, friends. Payroll no longer determines a team's ability to compete. Smarts count, too. Big time.

• Thirteen of 30 teams have played at least one postseason series the past two years.

• Twenty teams have played at least one playoff series over the past five seasons.

• Six franchises have won the American League the past seven years.

• Eight franchises have won the World Series the past 14 years.

• The average payroll rank of the past 10 World Series winners is eighth.

• In that time, the team with the highest payroll has won just once -- 2009 Yankees.

• In 2014, three of the top five payroll teams -- and six of the top 11 -- missed the postseason.

As for 2015, none of baseball's six divisions has a decisive favorite. That's why we saw a flurry of offseason activity, with so many teams seeing an opportunity to win now.

How are your preseason picks looking? Take a tip from one who has been there: Don't bother.

Hanley on 2015 expectations

For instance, there's the AL East. There's a case to be made for all five teams winning. The Red Sox may be slight favorites, but the Orioles could certainly win again. The Rays and Blue Jays are in the mix, too, with young players adding a dimension of the unknown.

And the Yankees have a chance, too. If those veteran players have one more ride in them and some of the best kids -- and the farm system is about to provide some players -- can contribute, there could be an interesting September.

The Mariners, Angels and A's all have legitimate reasons to think they can win the AL West. The Nationals may be the best team in the National League East, but the Mets and Marlins are solid teams.

In the NL Central, we know the Cardinals and Pirates are solid. We think the Cubs are on the verge of being really good, and if the Reds and Brewers can keep their stars on the field, they've both got a chance.

Has it ever been this good before? Has a new season ever offered this much promise? Here's to a great ride, or rather the continuation of a great ride. As the great Roger Craig would say, "Hum, baby, it's gonna be fun."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.