Opening Day countdown begins in earnest

Opening Day countdown begins in earnest

Opening Day countdown begins in earnest
Drumroll, please. It's almost The Show time.

On a different kind of truck day, the semis now roll north and west with the equipment. The drapes are being drawn on Spring Training camps in Arizona and Florida.

Welcome to one of the most hyperactive weeks on the baseball calendar, as Spring Training dissolves into the start of the real thing.

A week of hyperventilation and hypertension, too. Fans in the spring-chilled Northeast and on the mild West Coast and at all points in between are overtaken by the excitement of onrushing Opening Day, while they and their teams fidget as offseason plans and hopes are about to be put to the test.

Clubs are waving so long to spring homes, waiving certain players who do not make the cut and contemplating the starting line with unwavering optimism.

Every season brings the unusual and the extraordinary, and 2011 does so right off the bat with the first Thursday opening since 1976. This will also be the first season to begin on a day other than Sunday or Monday since 1998.

For those not keeping score at home, those 1976 openers featured the Astros at the Reds in the National League and the Yankees at the Brewers in the American League.

This bell goes off Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET in the Bronx, where the Yankees will host the Tigers, and in the nation's capital, where the Nationals will welcome the Braves.

Four other openers will quickly fall in line, at 2:10 p.m. for the Reds and the Brewers in Cincinnati, at 4:10 p.m. in Kansas City for the Royals and the Angels, at 4:15 p.m. in St. Louis for the Cardinals and the Padres.

For the opening grand finale, the Giants will flaunt their World Series trophy in the Dodgers' faces when the rivals meet at Dodger Stadium in a nationally televised 8 p.m. game.

All other teams will swing into action the following day, when an 11-game Friday schedule kicks off the season's first busy weekend.

Pulses will be racing everywhere, it's only natural. But The Natural will be in Chicago's Wrigley Field, where Robert Redford will deliver the ceremonial first pitch before the Cubs take on the Pirates. It would be eminently more appropriate for Mr. Redford to hit the first pitch with Wonderboy, but why quibble?

Hard to say who is more ready for the real games to begin: fans eager to see the ushers of summer or players jaded with practice games?

Let's call it a tie.

The conductors of the Opening Day symphonies certainly are anxious for the curtain to rise. Opening Day starters have the batons -- umm, baseballs -- in their raised hands, and when they swing down, it will be on.

"I'm just ready for it to start," said Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, who will oppose the Giants' Tim Lincecum on Thursday. "I'm prepared, now it's time for the real thing, ready or not. From here, it's just a matter of doing it."

Boston's lead man, Jon Lester, looks forward to a unique adrenaline concoction.

"The adrenaline of the crowd and of the atmosphere of what's going on," Lester said. "And then you have those butterflies in your stomach."

Fans and teammates will send "Wish you were here" messages to several key players who will have to remain in Spring Training complexes to rehab from injuries.

They include front-line starters Zack Greinke (Brewers), Mat Latos (Padres), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), Tommy Hunter (Rangers), Jon Garland (Dodgers), Brandon Morrow (Blue Jays) and Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto (Reds); outfielders Cody Ross (Giants) and Domonic Brown (Phillies); Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake; Houston shortstop Clint Barmes; and Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.

They'll keep the camp fires burning. Uptown, there will soon be fires of a different sort: The kindling of pennant fever.

Tom Singer is a national reporter for Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.