ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (FOX 13) - It's a huge day for baseball fans: Opening Day, and the Tampa Bay Rays are ready to play.
Crews have completed the finishing touches on Tropicana Field for Thursday's kickoff of the regular season, which features the Houston Astros facing the Rays. For those who don't have a ticket, you're out of luck. For the 14th straight year, opening day is a sellout in St. Petersburg.
The baseball team spent about $5 million on changes at Tropicana Field, including a new gathering area by left field and removing all the 300-level seats. The Rays announced the stadium is going cashless this season, however, cash can be used to purchase gift cards.
The pitching matchup features two of the best pitchers in the American League. Houston's Justin Verlander is taking on the Rays' Blake Snell.
The more Snell thinks about beginning the season against Verlander and the Houston Astros, the more excited Tampa Bay's ace gets about a rare opening day matchup between a reigning Cy Young Award winner and the runner-up for the honor.
"It's cool. It's going to be a challenge, it's going to be a battle. I can't wait for it," Snell said, looking ahead to Thursday's opener at Tropicana Field.
"I know he's going to have his 'A' game, so he can expect the same," the 26-year-old left-hander added. "It's going to be fun going against him."
It'll be the first career opening day start for Snell - 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA a year ago, when the Rays won more games (90) than any club that didn't make the playoffs.
The 36-year-old Verlander, 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA and an AL-leading 290 strikeouts in 214 innings last season, is making his 11th opening day start.
"Two really, really talented pitchers," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "One guy that kind of set the world on fire last year in Blake. And then Justin Verlander, he's done it for what, a decade and half now? It will be fun to watch."
Since the Cy Young Award was first presented in 1956, there have only been two reigning winners who wound up facing the runner-up on opening day the next season, with both instances occurring in 1979.
With Snell and Verlander going against each other, as well as NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets facing Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals, the number grows to four on Thursday.
In 1979, reigning AL winner Ron Guidry (Yankees) faced runner-up Mike Caldwell (Brewers) and NL winner Gaylord Perry (Padres) faced Burt Hooton (Dodgers).
"You couldn't ask, as a baseball fan, for a better matchup right out the chute. It should be a lot of fun to watch," Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier said.
The game starts at 4 p.m.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.