Opening Week?

March 28, 2008

This could be the year. Coast to coast, from Camden Yards to Great American Ballpark to Safeco Field, the aura of possibility is palpable.  This is our year!
Opening Day is on Sunday night! Or did it already happen in Japan?  Or is it really on Monday? All of the above, kind of. And that’s where Major League Baseball has lost sight of some of its magic.

Opening Day should be a national holiday. It is a day when citizens across our great nation are filled with hope, optimism and cheer. It is a day with fanfare and spectacle in over a dozen cities, gathering across divides of race or religion or age in common pursuit to root, root, root for the home team. I mean, really, is there anything more American that that?

But Major League Baseball, in its infinite wisdom of globalization, has turned what should be a deafening cheer from sea to shining sea into a smattering of applause. The national magic of Opening Day began to evaporate over a decade ago, as the traditional first pitch at the Reds home opener (which kicked off the season for years) gave way to the ESPN opening night on the Sunday before Opening Day. Still, the ESPN fanfare and the isolated nature of the event kind of made up the difference. 

Yet slowly tradition did begin to unravel.  In 2000, a stunt brought Opening Day to Tokyo. This was repeated in 2004 and again last week as the Red Sox and A’s kicked off the 2008 season about a week early in the wee hours of the morning.  So, now we kind of have 3 opening days. The Tokyo games, Sunday night on ESPN and Monday, March 31st. But what MLB does not seem to get is that this does not extend the excitement of Opening Day into Opening Week; it just kind of kills the moment.

Sure the Tokyo event brings in some cash to MLB. And yes it helps to fuel the excitement of Major League Baseball in Japan and other markets. In isolation, these are both good for the league. But in the bigger picture, the games at 5 o’clock in the morning get scant attention in the national media and it is another step down the slippery slope of turning Opening Day into just another game on the schedule. 

The baseball season lasts for 6 months, plus the playoffs. It is a long season filled with 162 games. Opening Day can be an emphatic kick-off to this marathon season. Today is the day! This could be the year! Buzz, excitement, anticipation. Woo hoo!  It’s Opening Day-ish!

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