KANSAS CITY -- It's good to be back.
It is for the Royals, anyway, who feel like it's been forever since they last saw the comforting sight of their home field.
"Everybody's been looking forward to getting back," Royals manager Ned Yost said Thursday. "It was a long spring. It felt like we were on the road for two months instead of six days or seven days, and everybody's excited for [the home opener] to come."
As if Spring Training wasn't long enough to stay away from home, the Royals opened the 2012 season on a six-game road trip on the West Coast. Friday, the Royals will finally get to come back to their home ballpark when they play host to the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium.
The expectations for this Royals team are different than in years past, and the Royals will take the field in front of an excited fan base. Add that to the usual Opening Day festivities, and there's a lot going on besides just a baseball game.
"I don't think you can ignore it. I think you embrace it," Friday's starter, Luke Hochevar, said. "It's a special day. All the stuff that goes on the field before the game, the flyover. If it doesn't give you goosebumps, you may not have pulse."
Hochevar is coming off a solid performance in his first start of the season. Saturday in Anaheim, Hochevar tossed 6 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out four Angels.
Yost set his rotation so the 28-year-old right-hander would get the start in the home opener. The manager commented that Hochevar's performance at the end of last season and his good spring have earned him the coveted first start in front of the home fans.
Friday will be Hochevar's 12th career start against the Indians, having gone 4-7 with a 5.21 ERA. Last season, he started three games against Cleveland, going 1-2 with a 5.31 ERA.
Hochevar probably won't be the only Royal with goosebumps when the game starts at 3:10 p.m. CT. Some of the team's young offensive stars will be taking the field for their first Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas hadn't experienced any form of big league Opening Day before the 2012 season. After checking a road opener off his list last week in Anaheim, he'll get his first taste of Opening Day in Kansas City.
"Any time you get to play your first game in front of your home fans, it's a meaningful game," Moustakas said.
First baseman Eric Hosmer said that there was a little bit of homesickness during the team's time away from Kauffman Stadium. He said he and his teammates were just excited to get back home and unpack their things.
"Not playing on this field for so long, and then coming back," Hosmer said. "It feels like forever since we've played a home game in Kansas City. ... It's the first time back in the stadium, and I think everyone's real excited."
To meet some of the high expectations, the team will need to play well against its Central Division opponents. Friday will mark the Royals' first matchup against a division rival this season. The Indians won the season series between the two clubs in 2011, taking 12 of the 18 games. No team scored more runs against the Royals than the Indians last season, with Cleveland's offense tacking 104 total runs on the board.
Friday, the Royals bats will be up against Cleveland pitcher Derek Lowe, who is 3-5 in nine career starts against Kansas City with a 4.84 ERA. The veteran right-hander last faced the Royals in June 2010, when he came away with a victory.
The Royals worked out for about 45 minutes Thursday afternoon before rain started falling. By 4 p.m. CT, the tarp covered the infield. Fans might see a similar sight Friday, with rain in the forecast. However, rain is predicted to fall in the morning and at night, potentially leaving the game dry.
No matter the weather report, Yost and his players are excited to return to their home field with their home fans in the seats.
"You have two big Opening Days over the course of the year," Yost said. "One of them is Opening Day, and if you're Opening Day is at home, then other Opening Days aren't near as big. But if you start on the road like we did, Opening Day on the road and then Opening Day at home is huge. It's huge for us. We want to come home. We want to put our best foot forward in front of our fans. They've been waiting for us all spring, they've been waiting for us all winter."
Moustakas might never have experienced a Kansas City Opening Day before, but he has an idea of what to expect.
"A lot of fans. A lot of loud noises. A lot of excitement in the air. That's all I'm picturing is a sea of blue out there in Kauffman."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.