Major League Baseball

Opening Day for a player, from waking up to first pitch

April 1

By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports Baseball Analyst

The day we have all been waiting for has finally arrived.

It’s Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.

Opening Day should be a National Holiday. It’s just that special. 

For a player, this day gives you that feeling of showing up to the ballpark for Little League on a Saturday morning when you have three games to play and knowing you're getting a postgame snow cone. 

It’s special, and something I got to experience five times at the professional level.

It all starts the night before. The night before Opening Day, I would get to bed just a little bit earlier. It almost felt like Christmas Eve did as a little kid. 

Then the alarm goes off, and you wake up with all the excitement in the world. The nerves and butterflies hit you that much harder on this day. 

During the season, players typically fall into a pattern. Some guys show up to the field at noon for a 7 p.m. game, and others show up closer to 2 p.m. On Opening Day, though, everyone is in the door by 11 a.m. Not because there is anything more to do but simply because of the excitement. 

The second you walk in the locker room, it hits you. Your jersey is hanging smack dab in the middle of your locker, the cleanest it’ll be all year. Your pants are hanging right next to the jersey, with the socks, tags still on them, draped on top.

You don’t go to your locker first, though. You go straight to where the lineup card is taped on the wall to see where your name is. The pitchers know in advance what their roles will be. But as a position player, your heart is pounding a little. You’ve been waiting to see if you will get an Opening Day start.

There it is: your name, batting fifth on Opening Day. It’s a special feeling, impossible to describe, and it never gets old. From there, you head to look at the scouting report to see whom you're facing that day and what exactly he's going to be throwing.

John Smith
Fastball: 94-98 with ASR (arm-side run)
Slider: 86-89 with late, sharp bite
Changeup: 82-85

It’s always the studs on Opening Day. And on this one day, it’s welcomed. It’s expected. 

After that, you can breathe. You finally go sit down in your locker and relax.

It’s 12 p.m., and you're sitting in your locker waiting for a 7 p.m. game. What now? Well, this is the day all those superstitious baseball players out there create the habits they'll keep up for the rest of the season.

Whether it’s listening to music, scouting that day’s pitcher or doing early work before the mandatory early work, this is the day you get yourself into a routine that will last the next six months. 

Then it’s time for early work. You throw on your shorts and your workout top and head out to the cage with your hitting coach and the rest of the hitters. You get some early swings in and loosen up.

You head back into the locker room, grab your glove, throw on your cleats and head down the tunnel to the field for official team batting practice.

You walk out of the dugout and look around the stadium. Music is playing on the speakers, the grounds crew is working on the field, vendors are setting up their stands — it all starts to feel real.

You drop everything in the dugout and jog down the line to where the strength coach is waiting for you to run and stretch and get your arm loose. 

Today is also the day your throwing partner for the season is established, so after team stretch, it’s time to figure out who that's going to be.

After that, BP gets underway, and group after group comes in to hit while everyone else is in the outfield "shagging" balls. From there, it’s back to the locker room again.

It’s a couple of hours before first pitch at this point. You take off your sweaty BP clothes. Some guys take a pregame shower. Others sit down for a pregame meal.

The nerves start to kick in. I don’t care who you are: The nerves on Opening Day are real.

Then it’s one hour until game time, and you can hear the crowd starting to fill the stadium. A lot of guys will walk back down the tunnel to get a glimpse of the fans and take it all in before it’s time to do it for real.

Then comes time for the jersey. For the first time this season, your jersey gets unbuttoned, your socks get the tags cut off, your belt gets buckled. This is full uniform. This is the real deal.

You take one last peek at the scouting report and head back down the tunnel, earlier than you would for most games. Come on, it’s Opening Day. There’s more pregame stuff on this day. The whole roster is announced, and the national anthem is played with both teams lined up on the foul lines.

Everything hits you while "The Star-Spangled Banner" is playing. It’s emotional. A full stadium has come to watch you play baseball. This is the start of a marathon. It’s everything you have worked on, ready to be put to the test.

The field clears, the starting pitcher walks in from the bullpen with his catcher, and the team walkout music starts to play. It’s time.

You run out on the field faster than you will the rest of the season, with your heart pounding.

Out at your position, you take a good look around. The crowd is buzzing, the stands are full, the grass is perfectly cut. It literally doesn’t get any better than this.

The pitcher steps up on the mound for his first pitch of the season, and it’s go time. The crowd roars.

You get into your defensive position, give your teammates a little nod and lock in on the mound.

It’s Opening Day.

The windup ... and the pitch ...

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Ben Verlander spent five years in the Detroit Tigers organization. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Verly32.

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