Some people are Minor League Baseball fans primarily because they enjoy following prospects' paths to the bigs, while others revel in the affordable, intimate and often irreverent ballpark atmosphere. Arguing over which is the "best" way to enjoy Minor League Baseball misses the point -- they're both gratifying and certainly not mutually exclusive.
With that in mind, this Opening Day Guide is comprised of the multi-faceted ways in which fans around the country can most fully take advantage of Thursday's full-to-bursting slate of activity. Enjoy and feel free to chime in with your own observations. In what ways do you plan to mark this Thursday?
10 a.m. ET: The anticipated Jackie Robinson bio-pic 42 doesn't open until next Friday, but the Richmond Flying Squirrels will be kicking off their Opening Day festivities by hosting a sneak preview morning showing at a local theater. This provides a wonderful opportunity to learn or rediscover the inspiring life story of an American icon, and by the time it concludes, Flying Squirrels fans will be just four hours away from the ballpark gates opening for the first time in 2013.
1:55 p.m. ET: With 10 minutes before the season's first pitch, you'll have enough time to see that -- and the rest of the 2:05 Rochester at Buffalo ballgame -- by signing up for a season-long MiLB.TV account. With 58 Minor League clubs' home games available (and 27 games on tap for Opening Day), you can click between streams to view every pitch many top prospects will throw or hit. The Pacific Coast League is deeper than the International in such prospects this season -- Jurickson Profar (Round Rock) and Oscar Taveras (Memphis) among them -- so you'll have to wait for the 8 p.m. hour for those games to begin.
3 p.m. ET: Alright, the afternoon lull has set in. You woke up early expecting baseball 'round the clock, only to discover that this is really Opening Night. All but one of the almost 60 games today start as or well after the sun descends on the East Coast. So here's what you do while playing the waiting game: Visit -- and get comfortable -- over at our PROSPECTive Blog. It was created to serve you better in-season and out with prospect analysis and fun and off-the-cuff posts. Dive right in with the Prospect Uniformed (not Uninformed!) series, in which we show you what top prospects look like in every Minors jersey they've ever donned. Go on, enjoy. The real action on the field is coming soon.
3:30 p.m. ET: And, of course, make sure to check out Benjamin Hill's eponymous Ben's Biz Blog as well. The promotions-oriented yin to PROSPECTive's players-based yang, Ben's Biz Blog is frequently updated with posts relating to the strange, funny and always unpredictable world of Minor League Baseball business and game operations. Recent missives include info on culinary creations such as the Baco and beer shakes, a list of alliterative bobblehead giveaways, and a two-part "On the Road" dispatch detailing Ben's visit to Altoona's exhibition game against the parent-club Pirates. And because too much is never enough, make sure you're following Ben on Twitter (@BensBiz) as well as the all-encompassing MiLB handle (@MiLB).
6 p.m. ET: Now is when things really get hopping as teams up and down the East Coast open their gates to the throngs of fans waiting outside. The throngs will be particularly worked up in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as the re-branded "RailRiders" play their first game at an almost totally rebuilt PNC Field. None other than Reggie Jackson will be on hand to kick off this new era, and upon leaving the stadium, fans will receive commemorative photos of the game's first pitch. In other locales, the season's first bobbleheads will be handed out to those arriving early enough to secure one. The Jacksonville Suns are distributing Peter Bragan Sr. talking bobbleheads, which commemorate their late owner on an evening in which the stadium is renamed in his honor. Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, fans receive bobbleheads of notable alumnus Jordan Zimmermann.
7:05 p.m. E.T.: Speaking of that Harrisburg-Bowie ballgame, get used to your head bobbling at the sight of the Minors' best 1-2 punch in BaySox right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Only one, Gausman, could be pitching in this time slot, as Bundy has been shut down with elbow stiffness. If Gausman graces us with his presence, cue up the telecast and see if you can guess along with the hitters. Taking the longer view: Once both right-handers are healthy and atop the Eastern League's best rotation, keep your eyes peeled. They are both Majors-bound.
7:05 p.m. ET: This is game time, and across the land, Minor League promotional hijinks will be in full swing. A particularly absurd example can be found in Lehigh Valley, as apropos of nothing, Butch "Eddie Munster" Patrick will be throwing out the first pitch. After witnessing this magical moment, men with full bladders can try out the video game urinals that have recently been installed in the Coca-Cola Park restrooms. What's not to love?
7:05 p.m. ET: Back to the field: Trevor Bauer makes his organizational debut for Triple-A Columbus in Indianapolis. The eccentric ex-D-back is just one of many prospects with new clubs after an offseason of turnover, but could there one among them you'd rather watch? (OK, Royal-turned-Ray Wil Myers puts on the Durham Bulls uni for the first time in Norfolk at this gametime too.)
7:15 p.m. ET: There is one more to-do for you, and this one's free and easy. Download MiLB.com's official app for the iPhone and iPod Touch for a fast, mobile route to live video streams of games as well as scores, stats, news and video highlights. Why download now? Well, at a quarter past this hour, the Dodgers' Cuban import Yasiel Puig, one of the surprises of Spring Training, is taking his first hacks at the Double-A level. Our app gets you pitch-by-pitch detail of Puig's plate appearances as Chattanooga hosts Huntsville.
8:05 p.m. ET: Speaking of prospects, check out the Astros' Domingo Santana, one of 10 underrated players we expect to emerge in Tyler Austin-like fashion, as his Corpus Christi Hooks host Texas League defending-champ Springfield. Santana tripled and doubled in Houston's Spring Training sendoff last Saturday, so he enters the MiLB season with a hot bat.
10:05 p.m. ET: More fun: Few relationships are as long-running and blissful as that which exists between baseball and beer, and Inland Empire 66ers fans who enjoy both will be in for a real treat. Hangar 24 Craft Brewery is using the occasion of Opening Night to unveil its Baseball Beer, described as "a perfect combination of a classic Pilsner and American Wheat Beer." Cheers!
10:05 p.m. ET: If your team's loss early in the day has you down -- or if you're not close enough to the Cal League for a glass of beer -- finish it with the Minors' best battery. If you've already gained access to MiLB.TV as instructed earlier, you'll have a first-row seat to the future of New York Mets baseball: Las Vegas' right-hander Zack Wheeler and catcher Travis d'Arnaud, MLB.com's No. 6 and 8 prospects respectively, against a Sacramento lineup that includes sluggers Michael Choice and Grant Green. Will Wheeler and d'Arnaud be on the same page? Can Wheeler's right arm and d'Arnaud's knees stay healthy? And which one will be the first to get promoted? These are the questions we'll be asking all year long. Join us for the ride.