LEADING OFF: Crowds back on opening day, Cole starts season

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Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman wears his hat sideways as he waits for Boston Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts (2) to bat during the first inning of a spring training baseball game on Tuesday, March 23, 2021, in North Port, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

A look at what’s happening around the majors Thursday:


From Fenway Park to Petco Park, ballparks will again be buzzing with real fans, rather than pumped-in crowd noise, as Fernando Tatis Jr., Randy Arozarena, Juan Soto, Mookie Betts and MVPs José Abreu and Freddie Freeman step to the plate on opening day.

All 30 teams are scheduled to be in action, with Gerrit Cole set to throw the first pitch of the season against Toronto at Yankee Stadium. Clayton Kershaw starts for the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers at Colorado, AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber goes for Cleveland at Detroit, San Diego newcomer Yu Darvish takes on Arizona and the matchup in Washington is max effort: Jacob deGrom of the Mets vs. Max Scherzer of the Nats, the pair combining to win five Cy Young trophies.

A year after no fans were allowed during the virus-shortened 60-game season, every stadium is open, in varying degrees as teams adhere to coronavirus protocols.

“Going from zero to anything was going to be fun, especially for the players," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said during spring training.


A decade ago, when they were teammates in high school at Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles, pitchers Lucas Giolito, Jack Flaherty and Max Fried probably just hoped for a chance to make it to the majors. Imagining what's about to happen? Now that would've seemed pretty far-fetched.