ST. LOUIS — There isn’t a morsel that Alek Manoah doesn’t appreciate about the next spotlight moment in a career that is gathering them rapidly and relentlessly. The ceremony and tradition certainly is on a pedestal for the Blue Jays pitcher, who will get the start on opening day on Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium when his team faces the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals. Sign up to receive daily headline news from the Calgary Herald, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. A welcome email is on its way. If you don’t see it, please check your junk folder. Manoah recalled on Wednesday the vivid memories of a kid racing home from school to soak up as much as he could at his favourite sport’s grand opening. “It was always so exciting to see the best players in the world come together,” Manoah says. He appreciates being here in a city that reveres baseball and celebrates its history with such verve and that is home to a franchise with appeal through such a wide swath of the midwest. The St. Louis swoon with the Cardinals resonates with Manoah when he relates it to his grandfather, who was a fan of the team and often wore a Cards cap when the 2019 first-round draft pick was a young lad. But most of all, the competitor in Manoah relishes the meaning in the accomplishment, an unwavering faith from his front office and coaching staff that he be the man to get a season of big expectations started in style. As we’ve seen through his mix of brashness and bravado, the stage seems constructed for Manoah’s out-sized personality and electric right arm. “I’ve learned to play better when my emotions are at their highest,” Manoah said while holding court with the media in the visitor’s dugout at Busch. “It’s been a long journey to find a way to control those emotions and that adrenaline, but I feel like I’m able to control it and run free and keep it as controlled chaos … I feel I’m at my best.” The Jays are hoping for the best version of their starting stud in the first of three against the Cards to set sail on a 162-game season that officially begins win-now mode for the talented mix of young players and proven veterans. Internally and to a man, the group has targeted a division title in the tough American League East, the lofty next step of ambition after seasons of 92 and 91 wins the past two, the first back-to-back 90-win campaigns in franchise history. Off-season changes and a first spring training under manager John Schneider and his baseball savant bench coach Don Mattingly, has fuelled a steely group of Jays determined to take a notable leap forward. And in tabbing the ultra competitive Manoah for that opening day start, they feel they have the guy who is emblematic of the team’s freshened, business-like approach. “The ability to enjoy that moment and enjoy everything that’s going on with the fanfare, but to be able to separate that from the game is what sets him apart,” Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said in an interview here. “He’s an emotional guy. He definitely feeds off the energy for a stadium and the fans and uses it as fuel, but he knows how to handle it. He has the ability, when he gets on the mound, to be the same guy every time.” That consistency allowed the 25-year-old to have a remarkable 2022 season in which he was selected to his first all-star game and was third in AL Cy Young Award voting. He was third in the AL in both ERA (2.24) and wins (16) as he became Mr. Reliable in a Jays rotation that he now serves as ace given the opening day assignment. Manoah doesn’t need to manufacture motivation, but when he takes to the mound on Thursday, it will be 174 days since he had what he admits was his worst start of 2022 in that 4-0 wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Mariners at the Rogers Centre. “I learned a lot,” Manoah said. “It was a long year learning how to adjust and navigate through adversity then but it all together in September,” Manoa said. “And then having a pretty crappy start in the playoffs and understanding this game isn’t easy. “My job is to go out there and give this team the best chance that I can each day. I want those guys to know that every time I get out on that mound I’m leaving everything on that mound. I truly believe every time I do that, it’s going to work out well for us.” And it starts with the designated ace, who the team will need to be exponentially better than Jose Berrios was in the same situation a year ago. The key — Manoah believes and his bosses agree — is to enjoy the moment without allowing it to get too big. “As a kid, you dream of being an all-star and winning a Cy Young and playing in the World Series, but those are dreams,” Manoah said. “You have to have a plan for all that stuff to happen so for me it’s to focus on that plan every day. “I’m super grateful for everything I’ve endured in life and the adversity I’ve had to go through and everything baseball has taught me. It has taught me to be better in life and life has taught me to be better in baseball.” Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. 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