MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Opening Trey, then Opening Day! #CapsOn

2017 season officially begins with Sunday triple feature

Opening Trey, then Opening Day! #CapsOn

Opening Day. How sweet does that sound? So nice, we'll do it twice. Welcome to the two best days of the year, and no real baseball fan would argue otherwise.

Best of all is how it's laid out. Here's to the scheduling gods. Nice work. Perfect touch.

This first week is unlike any other, and the schedule reflects that. We've waited so long for real baseball games that we savor every pitch, every double play, every nook and cranny.

Sure, we'll overstate the importance of these first games. We know we shouldn't. We do it anyway, and that's part of the beauty of it.

So the games will unfold before us, three of them spread throughout Sunday and a dozen more on Monday, giving us baseball from early afternoon until late into the night both days.

Finally.

It's time to play ball and don't forget #CapsOn -- Monday's dress code from coast to coast.

Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer will throw the first pitch of the 2017 regular season at around 1:10 p.m. ET Sunday, when the Rays and Yankees get things started at Tropicana Field.

Are those Yankee kids as good as advertised? How about New York starter Masahiro Tanaka? That guy has looked ridiculously good this spring.

As for the Rays, have they finally constructed an offense capable of supporting all that pitching?

As usual, there's a perfectly reasonable case to be made for all five American League East teams to make the postseason.

But we digress. The first game of the season -- actually the first few -- have a slightly surreal feel because, frankly, it's challenging to wrap our minds around the joy of another Opening Day.

Maybe this offseason has seemed so unbearably long because of the way last season ended.

Remember how you felt when the World Series ended 152 days ago? You knew you had just seen something amazing.

Maybe you fell in love with baseball all over again. Maybe the game delivered on a level you never thought possible.

To see the Chicago Cubs celebrating a championship is a moment that will be frozen in time for a lot of us.

The Cleveland Indians were winners, too, on so many levels, completing a season of grit and resolve with an 18-round heavyweight bout.

Back to Opening Day, or maybe it's Opening Trey on Sunday. Around the time the Rays and Yankees are wrapping up, the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks will be starting at Chase Field at 4:10 p.m. ET.

Bumgarner vs. Greinke

Here's the headline: Zack Greinke versus Madison Bumgarner. All this game has is Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock.

One dugout has a future Hall of Fame manager, Bruce Bochy. The other has one of the most respected rookie managers in a lot of years, Torey Lovullo.

And at 8:35 p.m. ET, it's the main course: Cardinals-Cubs at Busch Stadium. The Cubs believe they just might be better than last year. The Cardinals are, well, the Cardinals.

Lester vs. Martinez

Last year's Cubs center fielder, Dexter Fowler, will be starting in center for a St. Louis team that has been retooled around pitching and defense.

And then on Monday, another Opening Day, the traditional one. The Marlins and Nationals will play the first of a dozen games, a day that stretches from coast to coast, finishing with the Angels and Athletics at 10:05 p.m. ET in Oakland.

These two days will deliver a smorgasbord of delights, from Stephen Strasburg returning to the mound for the Nationals to Clayton Kershaw continuing to build on an amazing body of work.

The Blue Jays and Orioles will give us a rematch of last fall's incredible AL Wild Card Game. The Indians and Rangers will play in Arlington.

Kluber vs. Darvish

The Indians begin this season as arguably the AL's best team, especially after adding Edwin Encarnacion. Texas will hand the ball to Yu Darvish, whose ability to pitch at a high level may determine whether the Rangers get back to the playoffs.

In Houston, there's a Felix Hernandez-Dallas Keuchel matchup. Both teams have high hopes. And both are counting on big seasons from their aces.

On Saturday, in what may have been the perfect Opening Day setup, the Nationals and Red Sox toured the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., then played to a 4-4 exhibition tie in front of about 1,000 midshipmen's in their dress blues in Max Bishop Stadium.

This one had the feel of the Braves-Marlins game last July 3 at Fort Bragg. Players said it was an experience they'll remember for the rest of their lives.

Military gives Nats players tour

The Red Sox and Nationals got the full Navy experience, from boarding a training ship to taking turns riding on armored Humvees to touring Memorial Hall with its wall lined with portraits of American heroes.

Just before first pitch, Navy fighters did a screaming, ear-smashing flyover, a unique welcome.

"Powerful" was the way Red Sox manager John Farrell described the experience. "This is a special day."

Now it's onto Opening Day.

This is the good stuff.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.