The Death of Opening Day
(Editor’s Note: During Kentucky’s last Final Four run, I talked about baseball’s opening day for one segment on Big Blue Insider and received threatening e-mails that questioned my mental capacity and the relative branchiness of my family tree, so let’s do that again.)
I love baseball. I really do. To this day I think it’s the world’s most perfect sport. But anymore it’s a love more like the love you have for that car you drove in high school or college – and that you still drive as an adult. You love it for the coolness it had back then and you try to understand that it’s lost its fastball.
That’s baseball. It has clearly lost its collective fastball.
Once upon a time, baseball Opening Day was a happening. It didn’t hurt that it fell on the same day as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game, creating a daylong sportsfest that was only superseded by the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for sheer sports fan joy. Nearly every team opened on the same Monday. Games started at noon and ran until at least the basketball game tipped off. There were consecutive games on ESPN.
It was an even bigger deal in the Cincinnati area where I grew up. It was easily the biggest day of the year. There was a parade, schools closed or you were allowed to watch the game in your classroom and it was THE day that you knew for sure winter was over and that it was time to get ready for summer (even in the years that it snowed on Opening Day).
Now, however, Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is LITERALLY (and I know how to use that word properly and mean every bit of it here) nothing.
In a world where the NFL opens its season on a Thursday night with marquee teams and a rock concert, the Major League Baseball regular season opens with a whisper. This year’s opening happened yesterday (two days ago? I don’t even know how to tell what day it happened on) when A-listers Seattle and Oakland fired out the first pitch in Japan, while their west coast fans slept.
For what it’s worth Seattle won and they are playing again today (tomorrow? Yesterday? Anbody? Help me). And the stadium in Japan was packed. But it wasn’t packed with the fans who live and die with those teams day in and day out all season long. Those fans have been cheated out of welcoming in the baseball season the way it should be done – in somebody’s home season in front of home fans.
It’s not much better in Cincinnati. What was once an all day celebration of baseball’s place in one of the game’s most baseball crazy cities has been turned into a slightly forced version of Americana. It started however many years ago with a Sunday night opener. Last year the Reds opened on a Thursday – IN MARCH!!!
It’s a Thursday start again for Cincinnati as the Reds start in late-afternoon (4:05) against the Marlins and their horrible new logo over a week after the season officially whimpered into existence on the other side of the world. A full third of the game will be played while I’m driving home from work. The late open moves the Reds’ first series with the hated rival St. Louis Cardinals off what would have been a massive baseball weekend into a Monday-Wednesday slot. Perfect.
It’s bad enough that Major League Baseball has opted to open its season in anonymity, but it doesn’t promise to end any more enthusiastically. With the advent of an additional Wild Card and an absurd fifth playoff team, drama has all but been wiped out at the end of the season. Sure there’s a chance that teams will come down to the wire for that FIFTH spot the way teams did on the single most exciting day of regular season in the game’s history last year, but when they are done the Wild Card teams will head off to a one-game playoff that will burn a starter and render them almost completely unable to compete in the Divisional Series that follows.
So I just want to thank Bud Selig – consistently the most inept commissioner in the history of sports, sorry Gary Bettman – for wrecking what had been for most of my life the most exciting time of the year.
So happy Opening Day, baseball fans, whenever it is, was or will be.