The pomp and pageantry of Opening Day is something Astros right fielder Hunter Pence doesn't take lightly. He understands the significance and the responsibility of being in the lineup on Opening Day, and he has been waiting all winter for this moment.
He's been waiting to hear his named called by the public-address announcer as he runs onto the field. He's been waiting to see the playing field in pristine condition, and the bunting hanging alongside a sellout crowd that's full of anticipation.
"Opening Day is definitely a special moment, a special part to the year," he said. "You work all offseason, work your whole life to get to the Major Leagues, and it's a new opportunity every year. It's a chance to do something special. We're playing America's pastime.
"There's a chance for new records to be broken from every player, a breakout season from a team that no one expected. Teams that everyone expects to win will fall. It's just a culmination of all the hard work and everyone coming together, and it's really an exciting day."
The year will be Pence's fourth consecutive season in the Astros' Opening Day lineup, and unlike previous years, he's one of the focal points of the team. With Lance Berkman gone and other young players trying to make their mark, Pence will take the field with a new responsibility.
He's one of the leaders, one of the go-to-guys this year, and he's ready to begin to live up to the expectations when the Astros meet the Phillies on Friday at 12:05 p.m. CT.
"The intensity -- you can almost feel it in the air and in the clubhouse before the season, because everyone's walking around saying, 'Good luck this year, stay healthy, let's go,'" Pence said. "It's something special. There's a feeling in the clubhouse. The air ... there's a calm, a quiet, like before a storm.
"When you get on the field, it's time to play baseball. That's when you really just enjoy it. There's always these events, and all sorts of fly-bys and the parachuters coming down in Houston. There's pretty cool stuff to see, but once the game starts, that's when you start to have fun."
The storm, Pence says, is the Astros, a team still in the transition to youth. Sure, they finished 10 games under .500 last season, but Pence remembers the way they played in the second half, when they went 40-33 and jelled with a roster of new faces.
"I want to be a player that helps with these young guys, that can bring us together and start winning," he said. "Get the excitement and the hype for the Astros, and find a way to be a sparkplug and play with everybody and go out there every day with as much fight and as much focus and intensity as I can."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.