As you read this, the first game of the 2012 Major League Baseball season is in the books. The Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners are getting things under way in…Tokyo, Japan. This of course is not the first time a season has begun in the Land of the Rising Sun. It has happened three previous times in 2000, 2004 and 2008 (is this the Olympics?). The first time baseball opened outside one of its cities was in Monterrey, Mexico in 1999. While it is noble that MLB is trying (and succeeding) to grow the game globally, repeatedly making two teams start play multiple time zones from home is wrong on a few different levels.
For one, the A’s-Mariners games in Tokyo will begin at 7 PM in Japan or 3 AM PST. Imagine you are fan of one of those teams and you have been waiting since October for some real baseball. But alas, the only way to watch your beloved A’s or M’s is by cutting off some serious Z’s. The next time the teams see regular season action is on April 6th. What happened to fan friendliness? Also, with Oakland and Seattle situated in the American League West, it is important they get off to a fast start in order to compete with heavyweights Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels. Starting the season in Japan will not help that cause. While the New York Mets in 2000, New York Yankees in 2004 and Boston Red Sox in 2008 all made the playoffs, all teams had sluggish starts to begin the first 10-15 games of the season. The A’s and Mariners are not good enough to overcome a shaky beginning.
Most of all, baseball’s first game of the season, as it was for many years, should be the property of the Cincinnati Reds. Major League Baseball likes to state that no other sport can match its traditions or its history. That has rung hollow for the last 20 years or so when the traditional Opening Game was removed from Cincinnati. Opening Day was granted to Cincinnati from 1876 to 1989 as nod to the game’s oldest franchise. Sadly, like everything else this tradition has been scrapped to the almighty dollar. Would it kill baseball to forgo a couple of dollars and make sure the Reds host the first game every season?
If baseball won’t go back to Cincinnati, then maybe there is one area they can copy the NFL. They should make Opening Night a stand-alone game on a Thursday with the defending champions opening at home against a division rival. That makes much more sense than opening when 90% of the country is asleep.
Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and at http://venomstrikes.com, a blog about the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Imagine you are a fan of the Washington Nationals. Your team has been a doormat since they moved from Montreal. Then, in the middle of the 2009 season, you see a light at the end of the tunnel. It turns out to be an oncoming train only you are thrilled to be hit by it. The train is #1 pick Stephen Strasburg and he is about to breathe some life into your comatose franchise. So as you start your climb to respectability, an avalanche starts to roll into your path. Again, you are thrilled about this as your Nats draft Bryce Harper, the most hyped hitting star to have skipped his last two years of high school. So after all of these years of empty late Augusts, Septembers and Octobers, your time is finally here.
So how great must you feel?
True, Strasburg’s innings this season will have to be limited because of the arm surgery in 2010 and his brief appearances in 2011. He may only make 20-25 starts and pitch 165 innings at most. Right now, Harper may not even start the season in Washington. Despite all of that, I am still picking the Nats to win the National League East in 2012. The New York Mets are a mess. The Miami Marlins have the potential to be an even bigger mess. I do not trust the starting pitching of the Atlanta Braves and who knows how last season’s collapse will affect the team. As for the Philadelphia Phillies, this is the one year where everything goes wrong. It has already started with the delayed progress of Ryan Howard from his foot injury. I am picking Washington in spite of the fact I believe Strasburg and Harper may play only 75% of the season with the big club. Picture the Nats’ future with those two around for an entire season.
If Strasburg and Harper live up to their considerable advance billing, you could very well have baseball’s biggest gate attractions in years. Strasburg is destined to become one of those pitchers whose every start is an event. Harper could very well be one of those hitters where you stop everything you are doing to watch him swing. For the next 10-15 years, as long as they produce and stay in the Nation’s Capital, the Nationals will become the most-talked about team in baseball, even more so than the New York Yankees. Players will want to come to Washington because Strasburg and Harper will make them winners and make them additional money with more TV appearances and more media attention.
I look forward to watching these two youngsters play for a very long time. In fact, they give me an excuse to buy the Extra Innings package. My one hope is that they stay in Washington for their entire careers. The Senators were a down franchise for most of their time in Washington. It will be nice to have some winners in DC. And I am not referring to the politicians.
I can still remember the end of the 2011 regular season like it was yesterday. There I was laying on the in-laws couch, fighting against the oncoming tidal wave of sleep, channel surfing between Yanks-Rays, Red Sox-Orioles and Braves-Phillies. It was the evening of September 28th which turned into the morning of September 29th and we were watching the conclusion of probably the wildest season-ending finish in history. The epic collapses of the Braves and the Red Sox turned into the storybook finishes of the Cardinals and Rays. And we were witnesses to it all, from the sliding miss of Carl Crawford to the historic Rays deficit turned triumph. Now all we have are memories as we will never see a finish like that again.
In their infinite wisdom, Bud Selig and the folks that run Major League Baseball have decided to add two more “playoff” teams, one in each league starting in 2012. Note the “playoff” in quotations. All the extra round of “playoffs” entails is one game between the teams with the fourth and fifth best records in each league. This is supposed to somehow make winning the division matter. That doesn’t even apply in 2012. The team with the lower seed gets the first two games at home. In their rush for more money, they can’t even start the new format in the manner for which it was intended. What is wrong in waiting a year to begin the change? Better yet, here is something fun to ponder. What happens if two teams are tied for the fifth the best record in the league? Do we get to have a one game “playoff” to get to the one game “playoff”? And if somehow three teams are tied for fifth best? Do we have a “play-in playoff game” before we have the “playoff game” before the one game, winner takes all, right to advance to the divisional round-”playoff game”?
We know where this is heading. Eventually, the charade of five playoff teams will eventually grow to six and another round of postseason baseball will be added. Baseball used to be able to separate itself from football, hockey and basketball by virtue that the regular season really mattered. When the move does go to six playoff teams per league, it will just be like the NFL. Too bad they won’t get anywhere near the ratings the NFL commands. What baseball should have done was to expand by two more teams making the total number 32. They then could have formed eight, four team divisions, sixteen teams in each league. It would make only the divisions winners playoff teams but with only four teams in each division, many teams would have meaningful, late season contests. That is how you make winning the division matter.
To me, baseball is still the greatest game we have. However as much as I love it, we will eventually tune out more and more as the season runs from St. Patrick’s Day and ends around Thanksgiving. Too much of a good thing is not good. Games become meaningless. The NFL will find that out as they keep adding games to traditional, non-pro football days and times. I hope baseball wises up and realizes that more games does not necessarily translate into more dollars. It will make for a more entertaining and profitable season for all of us.
Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com