Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I want my Opening Day back

Imagine the following scenario....
It's the first Monday in April. You call in sick to work. You go grab your son/daughter after letting them take a half day from school. You arrive at the ballpark about an hour and a half before the game to watch a little batting practice. Your child gets some autographs from the players and chows down on his/her hot dog. The sun beats down on both of your faces as you sit and admire for the next 3 hours. On your way out of the stadium, you buy both of you team hats. You walk out to your car and drive home. Both of you smiling, laughing and reminiscing about what you just witnessed. After you get home, you pop on the TV to watch some of the late afternoon games. After a little dinner, you go outside and have a catch. After that, you come back in for the night games. You let your child stay up just a little later than usual, to watch some of the night games with you. After all, it's opening day. A brief interlude - to flip over and see how the NCAA Championship game is going - then back to baseball. Finally, after a day of baseball, shared with your child, you crash. Your team is 1-0 (or 0-1). As a matter of fact, 15 teams are 1-0, and the other 15 are 0-1. When the day started, all 30 teams were 0-0. And now, every team has 161 games left.

THAT would be a perfect day. And it could happen. I know this, because it used to happen. Just like that. Baseball had an Opening Day that everyone looked forward to. It wasn't a game that day....it was an event. It was an all day spectacle. The tradition was so rich that it could not be matched by any other sport. The first pitch of the season was always thrown out in Cincinnati. That's where the season began. Period. After the Reds game got underway, then and only then, could every other game get going. It's different in the other three major teams sports, because no other sport has ever been able to match the traditions of baseball - particularly on Opening Day. Football has had Monday Night Football for over 40 years now, so even on Opening Sunday, fans already know that 2 teams won't be a part of it (and now there are two Monday Night games on Opening weekend, so now 4 teams don't play on Opening Sunday). And the fanfare just isn't the same for NFL's opening weekend. And as far as the NHL and NBA are concerned, they have zero tradition when it comes to their opening games. A few teams start on one night, a few more another night, and by the time everybody has played one game, some teams have played 2 or 3 games. Not exactly awe inspiring tradition. But baseball had that. They had it. And they blew it.

The Opening Night Sunday Night game, the night before the season starts, began a few years ago. It is nothing more than a TV, dollar-grabbing sham. There is no other good reason for it. It negates everything that made the first Monday in April so special to so many. Sure, your team might be having it's Opening Day (at home or on the road - I sat on my couch yesterday and watched the Giants Opening Day in Houston, just as happily as if I was at the ballpark) on Monday. But, some of the luster is gone, because two teams have already played. There is now an Opening Night and then a subsequent Opening Day. And it makes no sense.

Baseball has a unique opportunity to create an unofficial holiday. If all 30 teams played their opening game on the first Monday in April, it would create massive buzz around the country. 15 cities opening their seasons at home on Monday......and then the other 15 cities opening their seasons at home that Friday (it could be done, trust me).

Baseball's popularity took a hit after the strike of 1994. After it rebuilt it's popularity, it took another hit this decade with the steroids scandal. Of course, the dirty little secret that seems to elude the Commissioner's office, the fans and the media is that it was because of these bulked up hitters and massive home runs that the game even got it's popularity back in the first place following the strike of '94. But now, if baseball wants to reclaim it's rightful spot as this country's National Pastime and the popularity it once had, it needs to not go for the money grab, and go for some good, old fashioned traditionalism. Bring back Opening Day. Scrap the Sunday Night Opening Night crap.

I want to wake up on April 4, 2011, with all 30 teams 0-0. All 30 teams with statistically the same chance of winning their divisions....just for that one day. If my hometown team is home that day, I want to take the day off of work, take my son out of school early and drive down to the ballpark with him - and throngs of other parents and children - and take in the spectacle that is Opening Day. I want 15 cities to get to experience this next April 4. And quite frankly, there is no good reason for it not to happen.

Oh, and happy belated Opening Day to the Orioles and Rays. While all 28 other teams have already played, you two get to open the season today. That's just wrong.

1 comment:

  1. Carlos says:
    well said. i remember going to the marlins inaugural opening day game, and charlie hough threw a knuckler in the other batter box, but the ump (with some help from tradition) called it a strike to open up their franchise. we enjoyed hot dogs, sodas, and sunburns that i still remember to this day. it would be nice if something was done along the lines of what you're saying but unfortunately, money lets you talk.....and four balls lets you walk. however, these decision makers don't even have two.