The Boston Red Sox’s magic number to clinch the AL East is down to 161.

The Bosox have a one-game lead over the New York Yankees with 161 to play.

It’s never too early to crow about having a leg up on the Yanks, if you’re a Red Sox fan.

I’m still not thrilled over Sunday night MLB openers. How can anything be “Opening Day” if it takes place under the lights?

I also don’t think baseball starts with the Tigers until they have the home opener. Until then, it’s “opening day.” The first game with the creamy whites and the Old English D is “Opening Day.”

My opinion.

We love to jump the gun when it comes to pro sports openers. The NFL, especially, can’t help itself, and opens its season on Thursday night.

What’s the rush?

Baseball used to allow the Cincinnati Reds to go first. No season could officially begin—unwritten but no less magnanimous—until they threw the first pitch in Cincy. Time was you didn’t even think of doing anything else.

I remember there being a hub-bub in 1986, because the Tigers dared to schedule their home opener—and by extension, the MLB opener—earlier than the Reds’ that year.

The Red Sox were in town, and while the good people of Cincinnati were still squawking about starting a close second, Boston’s Dwight Evans turned on Jack Morris’s first pitch and drove it into the left-center field seats.

I remember it vividly, because I was sitting about 30 feet to the left of where Dewey’s ball landed.

Kirk Gibson—he always had a flair for the dramatic, eh?—saw Evans’s homer and raised it, smacking two in the Tigers’ 6-5 win.

I remember the second dinger wasn’t even on its way down when Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman ripped off his mask and started screaming at pitcher Sammy Stewart. I think Sammy must have shaken off a sign or something. Catchers don’t like that, when the ensuing pitch gets clobbered into next week.

Ahh, opening day/Opening Day.

The Tigers start in Kansas City today, at the very old-fashioned time of 3:10 p.m. local time. That’s when most of the day games began, pre-lights. Gave the working stiffs a chance to at least put in most of a day’s work before traipsing to the ballpark.

Four years ago, the Tigers opened in KC, and they brought in this rookie named Joel Zumaya to pitch the seventh inning, clinging to a 2-1 lead.

Zumaya walked the first batter then struck out the next two in dramatic fashion. The next day, I wrote that the seventh inning just became something more than one that contains a stretch.

Zumaya, from that day forth, owned the seventh and eighth innings for the Tigers in 2006. They don’t make the playoffs without the kid.

Not opinion this time—fact.

This afternoon, all eyes will be on Austin Jackson, the rookie center fielder with the movie hero name. Whereas the rookie Zumaya made late innings chic again in Detroit in 2006, Jackson’s heroics can’t wait that long. He’s mandated with making something happen immediately; the youngster is not only the new guy in CF, he’s the new leadoff hitter—for now.

After Jackson in the batting order comes another newcomer, but only in that he’s new to the Tigers: Johnny Damon. I think some folks are mildly interested in what Damon might do, too.

Jackson stung the ball in spring training; Damon has a track record. Suddenly an offense that looked moribund after the trade of Curtis Granderson and the fleeing of Placido Polanco due to free agency looks like it has a pulse again.

If Jackson hits, and Damon does his thing, and Magglio Ordonez returns to form and Miguel Cabrera gives us the usual and Carlos Guillen doesn’t sniff the disabled list, the Tigers from spots one through five aren’t half bad. Which means they’re more than 50% good.

They still won’t get a lick of help from the lower third of the order—assuming Brandon Inge bats sixth. The trio of rookie Scott Sizemore, catcher Gerald Laird and shortstop Adam Everett won’t have Zack Greinke shaking in his cleats today. Hell, they couldn’t even scare Zach Miner.

Sizemore might have the best stick among that threesome, and he’s another of those unproven rookies who didn’t hit much in Florida, save a few homers. At least Jackson’s batting average was robust in March.

Reminds me of a player named Timmy Corcoran, a Tiger from 1977-80.

Corcoran would smack the baseball around in spring training like he was Ted Williams. Then he’d go north and hit his .270—in a good year.

The Tigers might be thrilled with .270 from Sizemore, but Jackson will be eventually expected to do about 20 points higher than that, batting leadoff. Either that, or AJ better walk a ton.

The games count for real now. The Timmy Corcorans of the world have a chance to prove that the Grapefruit League and The Show aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive from one another.

I’ll have double mustard on my dog, by the way. If you’re buying.

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