On the real Opening Day of Major League Baseball–forget the marketing hype of Sunday Night B-ball–two Valencianos from Venezuela will take the mound, a continent apart. At exactly the same time (4:10 pm EST), Felix Hernandez and Henderson Alvarez will walk into the controlled ambiance of their respective retractable-roof stadia (there’s a chance of rain in both cities today), to begin the season in earnest.
Both righties had excellent seasons in 2015, and for Alvarez it was a breakout year: he was finally able to combine an above-average fastball with some nice movement on other pitches, resulting in 12 wins, of which 3 were shutouts. He played in the All-Star game for the first time, too. The Fish hope for more of the same while waiting for Jose Fernandez to return from Tommy John surgery later this month.
In SafeCo Field, the King returns to face division rival Anaheim (how can they be Los Angeles, when it’s so far away, culturally and geographically?). Felix won the American League ERA title last year after his agent made a phone call (seriously) regarding a disputed error in a September game, but I think Felix Abraham would rather win the division, moreover the World Series, than an individual award like the ERA crown. At $22 million a year, many eyes in the Emerald City are on the King, who’s followed by Japanese ace Hisashi Iwakuma in the rotation.
King Felix, who’ll turn 29 on Wednesday, is entering his tenth full-time MLB season. A few more seasons at the top will put him into consideration as the best Venezuelan pitcher in MLB history–Johan Santana, most would say, currently holds that distinction. Henderson Alvarez, who begins each game with a humorous long-stepping windup, will also celebrate a birthday this month (25), and has quite a ways to go to fill the King’s shoes (or whatever it is that Kings wear).
Happy Birthday, Boys. And thank God it’s baseball season.