Today is Major League Baseball Opening Day.
Today is a Thursday.
Does something seem wrong combining those two sentences to you? It does to me. Honestly, how many people have Thursday afternoon off to dedicate to opening day. Sure, there are die-hard fans who will take the day off to support their team’s hopefully triumphant start to the season. However, it diminishes some of the hype when big games are sprinkled throughout a long weekend of “opening days” rather than a monstrous “Opening Day” montage of games.
The MLB probably believes by spreading out the beginning of the season across a full four days as a way to spread the love out. According to the Baseball Almanac, “Regardless of the outcome, Opening Day still remains as the number one date in the hearts, minds (and on the calendars) of baseball fans everywhere.” Surely, despite the weather and the day, many of the stadiums will be filled out. Chances are, the “tv” broadcasts will claim their viewership (probably half-harted at the time or time shifted on a box) or listenership (radio, satellite or otherwise) will produce some variant of the same as TV, then there is the online (my fave is yahoo but mlb offers a play-by-play ‘gameday’) version as well.
One would think to leverage this you would try to lump as much play as possible in the shortest period of time and put the biggest rivalries together to make the most out of the weekend. After all, unlike every other sport, baseball is about series, not games, meaning, the weekend will be about the games over a three-to-four game span per team and not the individual day… and yet, it really is the day, in-and-of itself that sets the tone. And, if it gets off to a weak start it sets up the rest of the weekend and the next week (due to the pitching cycles that naturally occur) that will define how we perceive baseball as a whole.
It is very well possible that numbers may initially look “good” and that will become the defense. Baseball was supposed to fail due to high ticket prices and opening day box will be good. Baseball cannot draw a TV audience and this will. Baseball struggles to maintain it’s new media presence and some of the opening day packages and offers will help balance that. But, in reality, will it pull the nations attention? Will a handful of Thursday games draw our national attention from Lybia, from Japan, from our own flailing economy? Can it compete with NCAA Basketball? Will it re-align our collective mindset?
Major League Baseball’s first officially recognized franchise, the Cincinnati Reds, hosted it from 1876-1989 and only twice missed the op due to rain. Since then, opening day has varied quite a bit getting to the point of today’s round. Yes, Cinci is back in the spotlight and will face rival Milwaukee (and my guess, pull the upset). The storied Yanks will face the now “storied” Tigers team (well, maybe the story is the back page for both?). While former powerhouse trying to reclaim their thrown Atlanta open against divisional rivals but a now diminished up-and-comer Washington. Then there’s slugging St. Louis taking on underdog San Diego in a head-scratching match-up pairing teams that have as much rivalry as an ant and dirt. In a similarly weird pairing, a weakened Angles team is facing a faceless KC team (which, if KC had the history of a struggling Cinci franchise might be worth a story, but…)
So sure, in theory this could be a good day, but it lacks the smash of a real first day and we still have to endure a prolonged few days of this pancake batter on the griddle spread of excitement.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying there is anything wrong with those teams, or the individual match ups to their fans, but as a baseball fanatic, it’s not exciting in-and-of itself, and moreso, if I’m not a fanatic, it doesn’t make me excited about “opening day” as an event because chances are my team isn’t part of it, and because not a lot of “big” teams are a part of it, the event of a “day” itself hold little, if any, weight.
Now, I realize, 30 teams in 1 day is probably too much, but 30 over four devalues all of them as an “event.” Knowing traditional days off are Monday and Thursdays and that there’s a few weeks were other days the rotations skew, you could very easily make Friday opening day with east coast openings at 1, 4 and 7 and west coast at 4 and 7 all local times and more than twice as many teams facing bigger rivals as an opening day and make opening day an actual event, and one that most people can not only be at but if not, also watch and / or listen to. It also sets up the weekend series to be just that, a tight, bonded, and media rich opening weekend of no more than four days a series, rather than a thinned out wrap around where some teams aren’t even potentially finished a first series and some could be beginning a second creating a perception of artificially weak and strong teams with no definable conjectural value, and rather than focusing on the opening weekend, writers and fans are focused on standings which historically mean little after less than a handful of games.
So, opening day becomes more and more a pluralistic dynamic in major league baseball as it attempts to extend it’s already extended schedule to try and accommodate a few more passive fans at the expense of what would be really riveting which is a densely action packed, horse race start to the season that really pitches the parks and strikes out the sides and showcases the fact that momentum in baseball really and truly rides on the success (or failure) of today’s starting pitcher. MLB didn’t put out it’s best starting pitcher today, and should it struggle through this season some of that will ride on the fact it didn’t come out with its best foot squarely on the mound today, tomorrow, the next or the next…