Major League Baseball is back, and the unofficial national holiday we've been waiting for since Wade Davis struck out Wilmer Flores last Nov. 1 will be celebrated and will lift the lid on a week ahead packed with action.
Three games on Sunday, including a dynamic World Series rematch between the champion Royals and Mets on Opening Night, will serve as the red carpet ushering in Monday's all-day party. The second official day of the season brings the rest of the clubs that want to end up exactly where the Royals and Mets were. It's Opening Day for 22 teams, a coast-to-coast celebration of baseball that gets the season going in style. And it's officially #CapsOn time for those in the stands or taking part in the hardball holiday from home or at work.
But, as the ballplayers always say, it's best to take it one day at a time. Here's a bit of focus for each of the first spectacular eight of those days during this delightful, dizzying and extended first week of the 2016 season.
Sunday: In recent years past, Sunday gave us only one Opening Night game. Now we have a trio of terrific matchups the day before the rest of the sport dusts off that Spring Training dirt and gets after it.
Adam Wainwright gets back to his customary role as the Cardinals' Opening Day ace with a huge National League Central battle against the Pirates and starter Francisco Liriano in the season's true opener, a 1:05 p.m. ET tilt (ESPN, MLB.TV) at gorgeous PNC Park, and three hours later, two of the game's best young pitchers and ambassadors, Toronto's Marcus Stroman and Tampa Bay's Chris Archer, will face off against each other in a crucial American League East fray at Tropicana Field (4:05 p.m. ET, ESPN2, MLB.TV).
Then, of course, will be the headliner, the rematch of last year's World Series, but this time in the home park of the defending-champion Royals (8:37 p.m. ET, ESPN). Mets right-hander Matt Harvey gets the ball for 2015 runner-up New York against Kansas City righty Edinson Volquez to cap off a fittingly memorable trio of openers.
"Our focus is to come out of spring and get off to a good start, and at the end of the year have the opportunity to fight our way back [to a World Series championship]," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Everybody starts the year dreaming of having that opportunity."
Monday: The second official day of the season brings the rest of the clubs that want to end up exactly where the Royals and Mets were, and it's officially #CapsOn time for those in the stands or taking part in the hardball holiday from afar.
Both Cy Young Award winners are starting on Monday, with Cubs ace and 2015 NL winner Jake Arrieta taking the ball for his team's debut against Angels right-hander Garrett Richards on the road in Anaheim and Astros southpaw Dallas Keuchel, who won the AL Cy Young Award last year, facing off against the Yankees and righty Masahiro Tanaka in the Bronx in a rematch of the 2015 Wild Card Game.
"It means something special to everybody, not only myself, but my team behind me," Arrieta said of the Opening Day assignment.
"Everybody's been waiting for this moment. It's finally here. To be the guy on the mound for the first one is something special. After that game is over, there's 161 games on the schedule to fight through as a team."
There will be more drama in Milwaukee, as the San Francisco Giants try to get off to a good start in another even-numbered season after winning World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Madison Bumgarner gets the assignment against the Brewers.
Tuesday: Things will calm down a bit after Monday's spectacle, but there's still plenty of intrigue at hand. One of the biggest free-agent signings of the offseason, righty Johnny Cueto, will get his first start as a member of the Giants when he throws his first pitch against the Brewers. Also, lefty Wei-Yin Chen will get his first start with the Miami Marlins after signing over from Baltimore.
Meanwhile, Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard will face the Royals for the first time since his much-discussed high-and-tight offering to leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar in Game 3 of the World Series.
Wednesday: The Giants will unveil another high-priced offseason acquisition in righty Jeff Samardzija, who takes the hill for an afternoon series finale in Milwaukee, but there are other pitchers making debuts for new clubs as the week steams ahead.
Southpaw Wade Miley will pitch for the Mariners for the first time as they wrap up their series in Texas, Yovani Gallardo will kick off his Orioles career on the mound, and Mike Leake will make his Cardinals debut in a night game at Pittsburgh, with the Pirates countering with spring sensation Juan Nicasio.
And then there's Kenta Maeda. He'll make his Dodgers and Major League debut after successful years in Japan with a nighttime road start against the Padres in Petco Park. Other stud starters to watch on Wednesday include Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, Indians righty Carlos Carrasco and young White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon.
Thursday: How about a few rivalries to get things going? Wednesday brings about the first Giants-Dodgers series of the season, which never comes too soon, and this one will take place in San Francisco, with Alex Wood pitching for Los Angeles against veteran Giants righty Jake Peavy.
Also on tap are the Angels and Rangers in Anaheim renewing what has been a quietly contentious annual AL West feud.
Friday: Brilliant young right-handers appear to be the rule of the day. Luis Severino makes his 2016 debut for the Yankees after a promising stint in the big leagues last season, and he'll pitch in Detroit, where Jordan Zimmermann makes his first start as a Tiger after productive years in Washington.