All eyes will be on Tampa on Tuesday night when the Rays host the Red Sox in the official debut of super-prospect Wander Franco.
The 20-year-old has been the best prospect in baseball for two years running, and legend has it that scouts pegged him as a future big leaguer in the Dominican at age 10. The switch-hitting shortstop owns a lifetime average of over .330 in the minor leagues and will be expected to ignite a scuffling Rays offense as Tampa looks to end a six-game losing streak.
The Red Sox, as it turns out, are no strangers to hyped debuts. They've opposed some of baseball's greatest players in their very first games, tracing as far back as Hall of Fame outfielder Harry Heilmann in 1914 or the Cooperstown battery of Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove 11 years later.
The last time the Red Sox faced a debuting player with this much fanfare was 27 years ago, when a shortstop named Alex Rodriguez joined the Seattle Mariners in Fenway Park.
A-Rod is as good a place to start as any as we count down the top 10 players since 1950 to get their starts vs. the Red Sox. There are some all-time great names on this list, and we're going to throw in an 11th for good measure.
10. Ron Guidry, New York Yankees, 1975
Before the world came to know him as Louisiana Lightning, Guidry was just a skinny 24-year-old left-hander looking to crack a big-league rotation after five years in the minors. The 1975 Red Sox were a machine en route to the World Series, and they had teed off on Yankees starter Tippy Martinez, opening the door for Guidry to throw three innings of scoreless relief in Boston's 6-0 victory.
Within three years, Guidry wouldn't be pitching mop-up anymore. He'd be the AL Cy Young Award winner after going 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA in 1978.
9. Rocky Colavito, Cleveland Indians, 1955
A nine-time All-Star who's still considered one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame, Colavito made about an unassuming debut, pinching running for Dale Mitchell in the seventh inning of a 7-6 game and eventually racing around with the tying run in a 10-7 Indians victory.
The 21-year-old September call-up wouldn't get his first at-bat for another week, but he soon blossomed into one of the most feared sluggers in the American League, a position he held for a decade.
8. Elston Howard, New York Yankees, 1955
Speaking of deserving Hall of Famers, Howard backstopped the Yankees to four championships before finishing his career with the Red Sox, including the Impossible Dream season of 1967.
Befitting his future status as a thorn in Boston's side, however, he drove in Mickey Mantle with a single in his first at-bat after debuting as a defensive replacement in left field in this April matchup. He'd actually play over 200 games in the outfield, but he made his name behind the plate as a Gold Glove catcher and clutch performer.
7. Curt Schilling, Baltimore Orioles, 1988
It's easy to forget that after being traded by the Red Sox during the 1988 pennant race for veteran right-hander Mike Boddicker, Schilling actually debuted against the team that drafted him that September. Schilling didn't figure in the decision, but he acquitted himself nicely, allowing six hits and three runs in seven innings and serving up a solo homer to fellow former farmhand Ellis Burks.
It took Schilling a while to harness his talent, but once he did, he became one of the best big-game pitchers ever. We had no way of knowing the central role he'd play in Red Sox history 16 years later.
6. Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell, Detroit Tigers, 1977
A two-fer! The premier double-play combo of the 1980s earned their start as September call-ups, and man did they preview the hurting they'd lay on the Red Sox thereafter. Whitaker started at second base and batted second and went 3 for 5 with a double and steal off of Reggie Cleveland. Trammell started at shortstop, batted eighth, and went 2 for 3 in Detroit's 8-6 loss at Fenway Park.
A year later, Whitaker would be named AL Rookie of the Year. By 1984, they'd carry the Tigers to a World Series title.
5. Whitey Ford, New York Yankees, 1950
The Red Sox of the 1950s could always hit with the Yankees, but they could never match their pitching. Ford played a central role in that disparity, but he had a debut to forget in July, allowing seven hits and five runs in 4.2 innings of relief. Future Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr greeted him with an RBI single, and Ford later walked the bases loaded before walking in one run and wild-pitching home another.
But the 21-year-old quickly found his groove, going 9-1 with a 2.81 ERA 12 starts and helping the Yankees outlast the Tigers and Red Sox in the American League before sweeping the World Series. There'd be a lot more where that came from.
4. Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1974
Opening Day in 1974 brought a curiosity in the form of an 18-year-old starter at shortstop. Yount had been the third overall pick in the 1973 draft, and the Brewers wasted no time promoting him after just 64 games in the New York-Penn League. Facing the wily Luis Tiant, Yount walked in his first plate appearance and flied out in his second. With the Brewers rallying in the sixth, Felipe Alou pinch hit for Yount.
He didn't let it get to him, going on to spend 20 years in Milwaukee, where he won a pair of MVPs and recorded over 3,000 hits before reaching the Hall of Fame in 1999.
3. Jim Palmer, Baltimore Orioles, 1965
Also a teenager, the 19-year-old Palmer debuted in relief on April 17 after watching future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts get knocked out in the second. He entered with two on and nobody out and promptly walked Carl Yastrzemski before striking out fellow youngster Tony Conigliaro and serving up a two-run single to Lee Thomas.
Palmer wouldn't factor in the decision of Boston's 12-9 victory, but he'd win 268 games and three Cy Youngs over a 19-year career that landed him in Cooperstown.
2. Alex Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners, 1994
Here's one that a lot of us actually remember. On July 8, 1994, the Mariners made Rodriguez the first 18-year-old to start at shortstop since Yount 20 years earlier. The No. 1 overall pick just a year earlier, Rodriguez had flown through the minors to land in a lineup alongside another former teen idol in Ken Griffey Jr. Rodriguez went 0 for 3 with a pair of groundouts before stroking the first two hits of his career the next day.
Though he'd leave the game in disgrace, there's no questioning his place as an all-time talent. He retired with over 3,000 hits and 696 home runs.
1. Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, 1951
You want star power? The Red Sox started three Hall of Famers (Ted Williams, Doerr, Lou Boudreau) and the Yankees a staggering five, including the Mick, who was widely viewed as the heir to Joe DiMaggio in center. Mantle got the Opening Day start in right and hit third, one spot in front of DiMaggio and one behind Phil Rizzuto, with Yogi Berra and Jonny Mize batting 5-6. He grounded out in his first at-bat and popped out in his second before lining an RBI single to left in the sixth inning, finishing 1 for 4.
He'd make the first of 14 straight All-Star games a year later en route to one of the most storied careers in history.