And so it begins. The Syracuse Chiefs' 2 p.m. ET
tilt against the Rochester Red Wings is the first of what will be approximately 10,000 regular-season Minor League games. Fitting then, that this contest features preternaturally talented (and endlessly discussed
) phenom Bryce Harper
in the starting lineup.
Despite his youth and inexperience, the 19-year-old center fielder is expected to make an impact for the Washington Nationals in the very near future. Therefore, expect rumors regarding his imminent promotion to heat up sometime around 2:01. Watch on MiLB.TV »
But the afternoon will be off to a rousing start even before that first cry of "Play Ball!" The national anthem singer is mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel, a distinguished opera singer who can most assuredly hit the high notes.
7 p.m. ET: The world of Minor League Baseball is characterized by uncertainty, with player rosters, front office staffs and affiliation agreements subject to regular upheaval. But amidst such an atmosphere exist beacons of consistency such as the Dayton Dragons. The team made national headlines last season after setting a new professional sports record by selling out their 815th consecutive game at Fifth Third Field, and the streak shows no signs of concluding. This evening's contest against the West Michigan Whitecaps will be the first sellout of the season and No. 845 overall.
7:05 p.m. ET: Mets' No. 2 prospect Matt Harvey makes his Triple-A debut for Buffalo's fiery first-year manager Wally Backman as the Bisons visit the Pawtucket Red Sox. Harvey, the seventh overall draftee in 2010, compiled a 156-to-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first 135 2/3 innings as a pro, split between Class A Advanced St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton in 2011. Of Harvey's offerings, International League swingers will likely be most prone to missing his fastball (when he commands it well) and his curveball. Watch on MiLB.TV »
Elsewhere in the International League
, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs take on the visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. And the emphasis is truly on "visiting," as the Yankees are spending the season on the road as their PNC Field home undergoes a massive renovation
. Lehigh Valley's Coca-Cola Park is one of six stadiums in which the team will play its "home" games this season, but Thursday night belongs to the IronPigs. The highlights of the Opening Night festivities include a first pitch by boxer Larry Holmes and a pregame ceremony honoring the Lehigh University men's basketball team, which knocked off Duke in the rare No. 15 seed over No. 2 seed upset in the just-completed NCAA Tournament. Watch on MiLB.TV »
Orioles' No. 2 prospect Dylan Bundy throws his first official pitch since Baltimore made him the fourth overall pick in last June's Draft when Class A Delmarva arrives in Asheville. Bundy, the younger brother of O's No. 9 prospect and Double-A hurler Robert Bundy, will anchor the Shorebirds' starting rotation. Mature mechanically at 19, the right-hander is expected to ease into the South Atlantic League seamlessly.
8 p.m. ET: Pomp and, yes, circumstance is the order of the day in Pensacola as the Southern League's Blue Wahoos kick off their inaugural season. These indigenous aquatic warriors play in aptly named Maritime Park as the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, and their opponents Thursday are the Montgomery Biscuits. But before this battle of wackily named Southern League entrants kicks off, baseball-mad Pensacolans will be treated to a Blue Angels flyover sure to make even the most staid supporter yell "Wahoo!"
Braves No. 3 and 5 prospects Andrelton Simmons and Christian Bethancourt receive a rude Double-A welcome -- the Southern League isn't famous for hospitality -- when Mississippi's newest meet Mobile's wisest: top D-backs prospect Trevor Bauer. The third overall draftee in 2011, he of the unusual training techniques and nine-pitch repertoire, will likely be frustrating most opponents until Arizona comes calling and adds him to its rotation for good.
10:05 p.m. ET: Stay up late for the last round of openers, as Mike Trout takes his first hacks in the Pacific Coast League. Trout, MLB.com's No. 3 prospect, batted .326 at Double-A but .220 in the Majors last year. Be sure to watch in April -- Trout and starting pitcher Garrett Richards, the Halos' third-ranked prospect, guide Salt Lake into Tacoma to start things off Thursday -- for the 20-year-old may be back in the bigs before he can legally toast his inevitable callup this coming August. Watch on MiLB.TV »