ARLINGTON -- On Friday afternoon at the Ballpark in Arlington, Mitch Moreland will take his place on the first baseline with the rest of his Rangers teammates for the traditional pregame ceremonies.This is not his first time on a Major League field or in front of a sellout crowd. He was the Rangers' first baseman during the World Series, so he knows what it is like to play in a cauldron rimmed by 50,000 fans. But this is his first Opening Day, and there is no doubt it has special meaning. "It means a lot," Moreland said. "It means everything I have worked for has paid off. I broke in last year, but to be a part of the team from the beginning and try to make another run, it's a special feeling." Moreland didn't seem to mind that even though he is the Rangers' starting first baseman, he will not be in the Opening Day starting lineup. "Whatever comes up, I'll be ready," Moreland said.
Call it a quirk of faith, or blame it on Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Moreland will start against all right-handers and some left-handers. But Francona has decided to go with left-hander Jon Lester against the Rangers on Opening Day. Lester has a plus curveball that held left-handed hitters to a .216 average last year, so manager Ron Washington decided he would hold off on Moreland.It didn't hurt that Mike Napoli is 3-for-6 with a home run off Lester. So Napoli will start at first base with Michael Young at DH and Moreland on the bench. But Moreland will face left-handers this season. Washington is not interested in turning him into a platoon player. "Moreland can hit left-handers," Washington said. "If you don't see Moreland against left-handers, that's Ron Washington's call." Moreland will still see plenty of action during the Rangers' six-game homestand. Texas will face four right-handed starters in six games, giving Moreland a chance to shine at a position he has truly earned. This goes beyond being called up to the Major Leagues on July 29 and hitting .255 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in 47 games for the Rangers down the stretch last season. The numbers were nice, but hardly good enough to assure him of a job for 2011. This really began in the playoffs, when Moreland went 16-for-48 with one home run and seven RBIs in 15 games. The Rangers took notice of that and his improved defensive work and made him their first baseman going into Spring Training. Actually, the official word was it was "his to lose." It certainly could have been lost. Chris Davis, the Rangers' Opening Day first baseman in 2009-10, was the talk of camp, hitting .362 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 23 games. But Moreland was just as good, hitting .403 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. The job remained in Moreland's hands. "I just wanted to go in and play good," Moreland said. "I had a plan on the offensive and defensive side. ... I wanted to be more consistent and I wanted to be quicker defensively. That's how I approached Spring Training trying to go about it the right way, and it worked out pretty good." Less than four years ago, Moreland was a 17th-round Draft pick out of Mississippi State. Now he will have his parents on hand from his hometown of Amory, Miss., his fiancée, Susannah, and other friends. He will start the day by sleeping in a little later than usual because of the Rangers rugged travel of late, then have breakfast and head to the ballpark. It is Opening Day, he is in the big leagues and he has proven he belongs. "My first one ever," Moreland said. "A lot of the guys talk about it being like the playoffs with a lot of great atmosphere around the place. I'm looking forward to it."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.