HOUSTON -- Home, sweet home.
After a challenging road trip against a pair of defending division champions -- the Phillies of the National League East and the Reds of the NL Central -- Hunter Pence and the Astros finally get to experience Opening Day at home when they play the Florida Marlins on Friday afternoon.
"We need to find a way to come home with a little bit of momentum," Pence said.
Pence, the team's reigning Most Valuable Player, will be introduced before the home crowd at Minute Maid Park for the first time in 2011. A sellout crowd will be on hand to see the Astros and take part in the team's annual Fanfest festivities around the ballpark that weekend.
For someone who loves the game as much as Pence, the chance to finally play in front of a friendly crowd can't come soon enough. The Astros, beginning their 12th season at Minute Maid Park, went 42-39 at home last season, posting their 18th winning record in the past 19 years.
The 10-game homestand will give the Astros a good chance to get back above .500 for the first time since late in the 2009 season.
"We've still got a lot of season left," Pence said.
Pence hit .299 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs last year at Minute Maid Park, where he's become as much as a fixture in right field as the locomotive has been part of the ballpark's landscape above left field. This will be Pence's first Opening Day as the heart and soul of the lineup, with Lance Berkman long gone.
Because of his success of the last few years and his penchant for playing the game hard and his willingness to be there for the fans, Pence will undoubtedly get the loudest ovation from the crowd when he's introduced prior to Friday's game.
Those are the moments he cherishes more than anything else, the chance to wear his uniform with high socks and sprint onto the field as if he was shot out of 1947. The boys are back in town, and Pence is leading the way to Opening Day at Minute Maid Park.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.