Let's be clear: This is not Opening Day. This is your fourth-place consolation prize, a lifetime supply of Rice-a-Roni. The first two Opening Days were in Australia, and the third one was on Sunday night. All of them involved the Dodgers. Didn't I warn you about them? Where's HUAC when you really need them?
This is, though, the Opening Day you will skip work for. This is the Opening Day that makes you fake a slight cough on Friday, ratcheting it up in the hours before going home for the weekend, adding plausibility to your claims on Monday. There are baseball games all day. All of them are important. This, then, is a guide that tells you which ones are the most important. Until they're 8-0 in the second inning, at which point, you're on your own.
First game: 1:05 - 2:05 p.m. ET; 12:05 - 1:05 p.m. CT; 11:05 a.m. - 12:05 p.m. MT; 10:05 - 11:05 a.m. PT
Cubs/Pirates - Samardzija/Liriano (1:05 p.m. ET)
Royals/Tigers - Shields/Verlander (1:08 ET)
Nationals/Mets - Strasburg/Gee (1:10 ET)
Phillies/Rangers - Lee/Scheppers (2:05 ET)
Braves/Brewers - Teheran/Gallardo (2:10 ET)
Royals/Tigers. The Royals paid a Verlander price for James Shields, so the least they can get from that trade is some Verlander-like performances from Shields against the actual Verlander. Actually, the least they could get is an ∞ ERA over 0 innings in 32 starts, but if we're looking at realistic scenarios, a warm, fuzzy ace-off would do wonders for the Royals' confidence on Opening Day. On the flip side, Justin Verlander is always worth watching. If you're not watching him now, you're wishing you could watch him now. It kind of stinks that you aren't watching him now, unless you're watching him now, in which case, it's fantastic.
Photo: Leon Halip
The only other contender is Nationals/Mets, just for Stephen Strasburg. But back in the early days of Baseball Nation, Jeff Sullivan and I had an inside joke about Dillon Gee in which we would exclaim "Who the (expletive) is Dillon Gee?" whenever his name was mentioned. That was three years ago. I'm still not sure. Which means Strasburg isn't enough to carry it.
Second game: 3:05 - 4:10 p.m. ET; 2:05 - 3:10 p.m. CT; 1:05 - 2:10 p.m. MT; 12:05 - 1:10 p.m PT
Blue Jays/Rays. You might have watched blurry streams of Venezuelan League games over the winter. You might have streamed some hot Canberra Aces action when you were feeling down. And you might have watched three different Dodgers games before your team got a single inning in.
You haven't watched a knuckleball.
Seriously, you haven't watched a knuckleball.
Watch a knuckleball.
And the other guy is pretty good, too.
Third game: 7:05 p.m. ET; 6:05 p.m. CT; 5:05 p.m. MT; 4:05 p.m. PT
The only game on.
Photo: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
It's semi-genius for the Marlins to schedule a game in the gloaming of Opening Day. The franchise has two obvious things going for it right now: Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. Watch them both on Opening Day. Eventually, Avery Romero will hit 30 homers for the 2016 World Series Champions, and the long-suffering Jeffrey Loria will finally get his overdue reward for his service to Major League Baseball and its fans. Until then, you're tuning to the Marlins for just a couple of reasons. Here are two of the best, and there isn't even any competition.
Fourth game: 9:40 - 10:05 p.m. ET; 8:40 - 9:05 p.m.; CT, 7:40 - 8:05 p.m MT; 6:40 - 7:05 p.m. PT
Mariners/Angels. Before A's fans yell at me, there probably isn't going to be an Opening Day in the Bay Area. After a winter of 70º Januarys, here is our penance. There's gonna be rain, a lot of it, and the Indians/A's game might not happen.
That leaves it between Madison Bumgarner and Felix Hernandez as the must-see pitchers, with Brandon McCarthy/Jered Weaver kickers. Even if I could muster up enough fanboy to pretend Bumgarner and Hernandez were even, the Weaver kicker puts the M's/Angels over the top.
Of course, all of these games are going to be filled with baseball, with aces getting knocked out in the second inning, and miscast third-starter-as-aces going the distance with a transcendent shutout. That's not the point. The point is baseball. Watch it all damned day. Then watch the weather get better over the next few months. It's baseball, everyone. It's baseball.