MLB openers feature Strasburg, rivalries, AL vs NL

The Kansas City Royals have been absent from the playoffs since the day Billy Butler was born. They've barely had a winning season in the last two decades. They've often lost 100 games in a year.

And yet, buoyed by the best record in spring training, hope abounds - for the Royals, for most everybody putting on a big league uniform.

"There's no reason we shouldn't be better," said Butler, the Royals' All-Star slugger. "How much better that is? I'm not a mind reader. I'm not a projector."

Ah, opening day.

The hot dogs taste better, the boxscores mean more and most every team thinks it's just a break or two away from reaching the World Series.

A dozen games were set for Monday across the majors. Star pitchers Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg and Adam Wainwright try to get off to great starts, old rivalries are renewed at Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium, and a quirky interleague schedule unfolds.

No snow is in the forecast for any ballpark on April Fools' Day, but freezing temperatures are expected at Target Field in Minnesota when Verlander and the AL champion Tigers take on the Twins.

"It's going to be cold but I've pitched in that kind of weather before," Verlander said. "I don't think about it. It's always cold in Detroit on opening day."

The season started Sunday night in Houston when the Astros, who shifted from the National League to the American League during the winter, hosted the Texas Rangers.

Long the site of baseball's traditional opener, Cincinnati was going to have a new look Monday. That's when Josh Hamilton and his new Los Angeles Angels teammates visit Cincinnati in the first interleague matchup this season.

The Astros' move left 15 teams in each league, meaning an AL vs. NL matchup most every day this season.

"It is very strange," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

On both coasts, there was a very familiar look - Red Sox-Yankees and Giants-Dodgers.

Mariano Rivera was set for his final opening day when the banged-up Yankees hosted Boston. The New York closer is among several big names who missed most or even all of last year - Troy Tulowitzki, Victor Martinez and John Lackey are in that group.

Injured stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira won't be in pinstripes for the first pitch.

"It's still the Yankees, it's still going to be a good lineup," Boston starter Jon Lester said Sunday. "They're missing a few of their big guys but anybody that fills in for them, it's like what I said, they're going to put professional at-bats together and still - it's not going to be a walk in the park."

No easy decisions, either, for Boston manager John Farrell, one of six new skippers in the majors this year.

At Dodger Stadium, Matt Cain starts for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants when they play Los Angeles in the century-old rivalry.

It will mark the 64th season at the microphone for Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. Heck, Tigers manager Jim Leyland seems like a mere pup by comparison, now starting his 50th year in pro ball.

All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez is sidelined for the Dodgers. Around the majors, third basemen Chase Headley of San Diego, David Freese of St. Louis and Brett Lawrie of Toronto will begin the season on the disabled list.

Mets third baseman David Wright plans to be in the lineup at Citi Field to take on San Diego. He hurt his ribcage at the World Baseball Classic.

"I feel good physically," Wright said. "It would have been nice to have maybe a few more at-bats toward the end, but I didn't have that luxury."

On Tuesday, there are two more openers - Baltimore at Tampa Bay, and Cleveland at revamped Toronto.

All 30 teams will pay tribute to the 20 children and six adults killed last December at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Players, managers, coaches and umpires will wear a memorial patch through Tuesday that includes the seal of Newtown, a black ribbon and 26 stars, and there will be a moment of silence at each stadium.

Seven weeks after teams broke out the bats and balls, players seemed ready to get going.

"I'm really prepared. Well, finally spring training is over, it was a long one," Seattle ace Felix Hernandez said Sunday, a day before his start in Oakland.

"It's another season. We're a different team. It's always special, opening day, not for me but for all the guys," he said.

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