Six takeaways from Opening Day: Yankees’ Juan Soto earns his pinstripes

Opening Day might as well be a national holiday. 

Even the floor traders on Wall Street complained of headaches and asked to leave early on Thursday. The first pitch of the first game of the season really is that special to us nutty baseball fanatics. 

Growing up in the Thosar household, Opening Day required 100% attendance. Every single year, through middle school and high school, my dad picked me up with a signed note of approval for early dismissal. He would wait in the school parking lot as his excited pre-teen daughter basically cartwheeled out of the school doors in uncontainable anticipation for Opening Day. 

It’s not like we would drive to a ballpark, or anything. Those tickets weren’t cheap. The early pickup from school was just so that my mom, dad, brother and I could crowd around the TV in my living room and watch the sport that always brought us together. Always. The first day of a new season would mark a new chapter in our lives. Opening Day meant baseball — our nirvana — was finally back. 

Decades later, my level of excitement has only expanded. For the past eight years, I’ve been lucky enough to be a reporter who gets to cover baseball. Every year on this day, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have a seat in an MLB press box, to be even a small part of the coverage that delivers stories and anecdotes to other baseball diehards like me.

This year, I’m back in my living room for Opening Day — thanks a lot, Mother Nature — because the Brewers-Mets game was postponed as Citi Field is covered in puddles. My two-screen setup is certainly no press box, but it offers a worthy reflection. My love for baseball began with three essential things: my family, that living room TV and a scorebook. All these years later, I’m right back where I started. 

Opening Day is, and always will be, the best day of the year. And while I’m thrilled to be working today, it should be a holiday for everyone else.

Without further ado, here are a handful of takeaways from around the league that stood out to my baseball-crazed brain. 

1. Mike Trout Revenge Season

Remember this guy? The three-time MVP who happens to still be one of baseball’s best players? Yeah, he launched a home run off Orioles ace Corbin Burnes in the first inning to put the Halos on the board. Though Trout alone couldn’t give the Angels a win, he didn’t waste any time reminding us of his greatness. Last year was his worst season — he still posted an excellent 134 wRC+ in 82 games — and after more injury concerns, many are wondering if that was the beginning of Trout’s decline. Not so fast. Since Trout told The Athletic that “a lot of people are writing me off,” he’s clearly motivated to show he has a lot more hits (and homers) in him. He’s still just 32, and given his track record, I wouldn’t discount the possibility of another MVP season from the 11-time All-Star.

His comment, however, might be pointing to something bigger. In un-Trout fashion, he reportedly “pushed” the Angels front office to add more in free agency in the offseason. He wanted general manager Perry Minasian to be aggressive, according to The Athletic. Instead, Shohei Ohtani moved on, and the middling Angels remained in the same spot. 

That reality could also characterize Trout, who candidly described last year’s World Baseball Classic as “the most fun I’ve had on a baseball field in a while.” For all involved, the WBC final between Team USA and Japan felt like the postseason. Trout is still trying to win, but these days, the Angels aren’t even meeting him halfway.

2. Orioles and Dodgers‘ offenses are as advertised

The Orioles put up a crooked number on the uninspiring Angels by the second inning and eventually won, 11-3. While all the attention has rightly been on the Baby Birds, it was veteran Anthony Santander who enjoyed a four-RBI day (and homered). The cleanup hitter got off to a hot start, which is key not just for the Orioles, but for his big pay day, too. Santander hits free agency after this offseason, so expect a big year from the 29-year-old right fielder. That’s typically how these walk years go.

Meanwhile, at Chavez Ravine, the leadoff trio of Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman combined to go 5-for-8 with two home runs, four RBIs and six runs scored. Sometimes, you can predict baseball. With Miles Mikolas on the hill, the next four batters also did damage. Max Muncy collected a couple of RBIs, Teoscar Hernández had an extra-base hit, Will Smith, on the heels of his 10-year extension, singled in his first at-bat, and James Outman had two hits. Superteams don’t always work out, and it’s only been three games, but this Dodgers offense is going to put on a show (Sho?) all year. 

“I know the focus is on the top of the lineup,” Freeman told FOX Sports after Thursday’s win. “But you got Will Smith, Max Muncy, Teoscar Hernández, they’re all All-Stars and Silver Slugger Award winners. … We got nine guys in this lineup that could hit in the middle of the lineup of anybody else’s. It’s not three [guys]. It’s really a deep lineup.”

3. Royce Lewis hits one out — and then comes out the game

It was a roller-coaster of emotions for Twins fans on Opening Day. Following a long-awaited winter which featured a healthy Royce Lewis, the 25-year-old crushed a home run in his first at-bat, hit a single to left in his second one, and then came up limping with a quad injury in the third inning. Lewis has battled a myriad of injuries to this point, including two torn ACLs, an oblique strain and a hamstring strain. This was supposed to be the year the Twins could roll out a potentially dangerous trio of Byron Buxton, Lewis and Carlos Correa at the top of the order. Instead, we’ll wait and see, once again, how badly Lewis is injured. You gotta feel for him (and them). 

But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. The Twins are still the favorites to capture the AL Central, after all. Minnesota took the first rivalry game against Kansas City behind Pablo López’s seven innings of one-run ball. Lopez, the preseason Cy Young pick for my FOX Sports teammate Rowan Kavner, is becoming an ace before our eyes. A return to form from Correa, who had three hits and two RBIs Thursday, would be just as impactful long term for Minnesota.

4. Juan Soto was born to be a Yankee

It’s hard to imagine the Yankees toppling the rival Astros without a confident and feisty Soto wearing New York on his chest on Opening Day. Soto’s presence was surprisingly felt all over the diamond at Minute Maid Park, a place that has haunted the Yankees since 2017. It started with Soto’s bat, as he opened the team’s scoring with a bases-loaded single off Framber Valdez in the fifth inning. The four-time Silver Slugger saved his best work for last. In the ninth inning, Soto fired a strike home from right field to nab the tying run at the plate. Like Aaron Judge said afterward, Soto’s debut as a Bronx Bomber quickly became a “Yankee classic.” 

As one reporter who covered Soto through his five-plus years with the Washington Nationals recently noted, Soto has never looked as happy as he does playing for the Yankees. He looked awfully comfortable at the plate, and even in the outfield at Minute Maid. Next Thursday he’ll make his Yankee Stadium debut. That alone is worth the price of admission. 

5. Josh Hader is $95 million well spent

The Astros’ new closer officially has a 100% strikeout rate in the 2024 season. It’s an unsustainable clip, of course, but Hader was absolutely lights-out against the middle of the Yankees lineup on Opening Day. Slider-sinker-sinker-slider-sinker-sinker-slider. Nine of Hader’s 13 total pitches fell for strikes, and all 13 pitches befuddled the Yankees. Giancarlo Stanton (whiff), Anthony Rizzo (whiff) and Anthony Volpe (strikeout looking) walked back to the dugout in a daze. 

Hader is going to fit in just fine with his new team. The adjustment will have to come from Ryan Pressley, who allowed three batters to reach safely while surrendering the winning run. After three-plus years as Houston’s closer, the seventh inning was unfamiliar to Pressly. (Bryan Abreu was unavailable as he serves a two-game suspension for hitting the Rangers’ Adolis García in the ALCS last year.) Although the Astros bullpen coughed this one up, I still expect this group, and especially Hader, to give opposing batters plenty of headaches this year.

6. Is Michael Conforto back?

Here’s another one for the “remember me?” party. Conforto has a lot to prove this year, and the former All-Star actually played like one on Opening Day. Batting seventh for the Giants, Conforto went 3-for-4 with a home run, an RBI, and three runs scored against the Padres. After missing the entire 2022 season with an injury and posting a 99 OPS+ in 2023, he looked like the Conforto of old in the 2024 opener. He still has to prove he can stay on the field, and his most recent above-average production was in 2019, so it’s certainly an uphill battle. But with Conforto hitting free agency this offseason, a resurgence could be on the horizon.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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