It will be a day of firsts when Marcus Stroman takes the mound Sunday afternoon against the Rays. This will not only be the first Opening Day start of his career, but it's also the first time he has been on the Blue Jays' roster to start a season.
Stroman has parts of the last two Major League seasons under his belt, but he has never experienced a Major League Opening Day. Two years ago, the product of Duke University was started the season with Triple-A Buffalo, and last year, he was away from the action after a severe knee injury cost him most of the season.
Every pitcher dreams about getting the ball on Opening Day, and Stroman is no different. He has been thinking about this moment for years, and he can't wait to get started against Tampa Bay and his close friend, Chris Archer.
"I'm excited. I haven't experienced my first Opening Day, so I'm excited for all of the hoopla and everything that comes along with it," said Stroman, who is 15-6 with a 3.31 ERA in 157 2/3 career big league innings. "I'm just looking to soak every single minute of this Opening Day in."
Emotions run high on Opening Day, and nerves often become a factor. But having experienced a deep run into last year's postseason, Stroman has a "been there, done that" feel.
Stroman made three starts in October, including a must-win Game 5 against the Rangers in the ALDS. The pressure doesn't get any greater than those moments, and it's an experience Stroman can use when he steps onto the field against the Rays.
"I would expect it to be similar to that of the playoffs, and I love that," said Stroman, who went 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in his three postseason outings. "The louder it is, I feel like the more fun it is, the more excited I can get.
"I feel like I've done a great job of controlling my emotions, channeling them the right way, so I love it. I'm hoping there's a ton of Blue Jays fans down here, I'm hoping the place is rocking, loud, and I'm just looking to soak it in and enjoy it all."
Opening Day would be special enough on its own, but there's a little bit of added significance because Archer will be pitching for Tampa Bay. The two exchanged text messages earlier this spring that included some friendly trash talk when each pitcher was named Opening Day starter.
"He's a great individual. He's one of the best dudes that I've met, ever, in baseball," Stroman said. "Mentally, he's one of the stronger individuals, and we vibe with each other very well. All of that aside, when you step between those lines it's different. It's to go out there, do everything you can to your team in a position to win. But when we're off the field, we're great friends."