Mountain West Produces Three Great Opening Acts
Many moons ago I found myself in the right place at the right time. I was going to be part of the Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation even before injuries sidelined our two top pitchers, Teddy Higuera and Chris Bosio. Their bad fortune landed me the assignment of being the Brewers opening day starting pitcher against the Texas Rangers…and Nolan Ryan.
It’s more than just good fortune that has earned opening day assignments for not one, not two, but THREE former Mountain West pitchers for the 2012 season. These guys weren’t just in the right place at the right time, they proven to be the best starters on their clubs this spring and have earned the prestigious opportunity.
In Chicago, the Washington Nationals will hand the ball to Stephen Strasburg on opening day to face the Cubs. After the major elbow surgery in 2010, the former Aztec returned late last season and got some quality innings in, giving him a jump on 2012. Now, after an outstanding spring training, Manager Davey Johnson will send a healthy and hungry Strasburg to the hill for the first of what he hopes are somewhere around 30 times this season.
Strasburg told the Associated Press that the assignment was, “a huge honor.”
"To really think where I was a year ago at this time, I really couldn't ask for much more," Strasburg continued. "I worked extremely hard to get back here. And the job isn't done. I've still got a lot to learn, and it's going to be that way for a while."
Several baseball analysts have predicted that Strasburg will win his first National League Cy Young award this season.
Meanwhile, a short drive from DC, the Baltimore Orioles will hand the ball to former TCU Horned Frog Jake Arrieta to make his very first opening day start when he faces the Minnesota Twins. It’s a taken a speedy recovery from elbow surgery last August AND a great spring training to earn Arrieta this honor.
"All the work that I did throughout the offseason, post-surgery to get to this point, was stuff I was going to do regardless if I was going to be starting Opening Day or the third, fourth, fifth game,” Arrieta told the Baltimore media. “But to be in this position, 100 percent healthy and still getting stronger, it's very rewarding."
In Cleveland, the Indians did not pencil in Ubaldo Jimenez to start their opener, but rather Justin Masterson, another product of San Diego State and Tony Gwynn. Masterson, a sinkerball specialist, will take the hill against the Toronto Blue Jays.
It takes more than raw ability to earn the place these three hurlers now find themselves in. They had the great fortune to play college baseball for two of the best minds in the game. Being able to learn the game from Gwynn has served both Masterson and Strasburg very well. Both seem mature beyond their years and their “baseball IQ’s” are much higher for having listened intently when Gwynn shared his thoughts and stories about life in the Major Leagues.
Arrieta played in one of the best programs in all of college baseball at TCU, and learned from Jim Schlossnagle how to prepare and play the game like a true professional.
Don’t be surprised if all three of these young pitchers make several more opening day starts before their careers are finished. Regardless of what happens down the road, they will not forget what is happening this week.
I’ll never forget that opening day in Arlington, Texas. It was unlike any other game I ever pitched in. The pre-game pomp and circumstance was incredible – a full house, including then-President George Bush (Sr.) and the hoard of Secret Service Agents that followed him. I can’t imagine a World Series game being a bigger deal. On that day, I didn’t pitch great…but neither did Nolan. We won the game 5-4 and not only did I get the start, but I got the “W” as well. Let’s hope that the opening day starts of these three special MW alums is just as memorable for them as mine was for me.