The wait is over: Openers here for final eight

The wait is over: Openers here for final eight

The wait is over: Openers here for final eight
Adam Wainwright is back, and so is Buster Posey. Fenway Park has 100 years to celebrate, while the Mariners are just happy -- at last -- to be in their own beds.

For fans of eight teams, baseball season comes home Friday. Fenway Park's centennial kicks off with the Rays at 2:05 p.m. ET, while the Braves, Cardinals, Giants, Mariners, Royals, White Sox and Yankees also host their first games, thus wrapping up Opening Day 2012.

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In St. Louis, the defending World Series champion Cardinals will be presented their 2011 World Series rings ahead of a 3:15 p.m. ET start, with the ace Wainwright taking the Busch Stadium mound for the first time since 2010, in a matchup against the rival Cubs, no less.

"I'm looking forward to getting that ring, for sure," St. Louis' Lance Berkman said. "There's a little extra swagger to being [defending] world champs. That experience gives you confidence."

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was in Boston for an off-day Thursday, and said at a charity event that his first game as the home manager at Fenway "should be one of the greatest days of my life."

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While the Red Sox have a stalwart pitching for them -- Josh Beckett goes against Tampa Bay's No. 1, David Price -- the Yankees have a newcomer with a pretty good track record of his own -- Hiroki Kuroda -- on the mound. Ervin Santana starts for the Angels vs. New York in a 1:05 p.m. ET contest.

"Rather than being excited, I'm more worried about how I'm going to perform," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "Since I've never pitched at Yankee Stadium, I'm a little bit preoccupied. But I try to do my best and have the best outing possible."

"We've been away so long, it's like we haven't started the season yet," Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said. "That will be wonderful. The season will start for us."

White Sox veteran Jake Peavy will lock up with the Tigers' Max Scherzer at U.S. Cellular Field in a 2:10 p.m. ET game. Chicago's Adam Dunn, coming off an all-around disappointing 2011, is hoping this year brings a friendlier reception.

"Last year didn't change me as a person," Dunn said. "The best thing it did was, you kind of realized how other people, the people you are surrounding yourself with, are they in it for the right reason or not? That was probably the best thing I learned."

In Atlanta, the storyline isn't focused only on Turner Field's opening for 2012, but also on right-hander Jair Jurrjens, who faces questions about his velocity. Veteran lefty Randy Wolf pitches for Milwaukee in the night game, at 7:35 ET.

"We haven't played at home for a long time, and we haven't been home and sat down at home for a long time either," said outfielder Jason Heyward, who is hitting .316 with a home run after a disappointing 2011. "So that will be pretty nice."

The Royals, poised to make noise in an American League Central that is wide open behind the Tigers, have a budding ace on the mound in Luke Hochevar. Cleveland's Derek Lowe pitches opposite him in a 4:10 p.m. ET start. Hochevar opens a season in Kansas City during which he could eventually pitch in front of the Kauffman Stadium crowd in the All-Star Game in July.

"I don't think you can ignore it. I think you embrace it," said Hochevar, who let up two runs in 6 1/3 innings in his first outing of the season, of the home opener. "It's a special day. All the stuff that goes on the field before the game, the flyover -- if it doesn't give you goosebumps, you may not have a pulse."

For the Mariners, who have ace Felix Hernandez on the mound in a 10:10 p.m. ET contest with the A's, it's been a particularly long road home. The team was in Japan -- against those same A's, whom they've already played four times this season -- for the first Major League game of 2012, back in March. Now, after returning to Arizona to wrap up Spring Training and subsequent trips to Oakland and Texas, the M's can settle into Safeco Field for a nine-game homestand.

"We'll have Felix [Hernandez] and King's Court going Friday, and it should be a good atmosphere," Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan said. "Hopefully we can do better than we did out here in Texas."

"It's going to be another Opening Day where I'm going to have to go and shake the manager's hand at home plate again," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I've shaken [Eric Wedge's] hand more than a lot of my own players, I think. I think we'll both be ready to move on from the getting called out onto the line on that Opening Day thing."

In San Francisco, right-hander Matt Cain is on the mound, fitting after the Giants inked Cain to a five-year, $112.5 million deal less than two weeks ago. Sure to receive adulation in the 4:35 p.m. ET game is Posey, whose season ended at AT&T Park last season during a late May collision at home plate.

"The fan support ever since my first day in the big leagues has been amazing," Posey said. "Just thinking back over my rehab process, all the support the fans have shown -- seeing signs at games, well-wishes all the time -- that means a lot."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.