Opening Day is the greatest of all sports days, the purest start to any professional sports season. It’s something that’s been feted and beloved for more than a century, the only day where kids mysteriously disappear from school and return the next day with a sunburn. It’s possible to get a little too hyperbolic about Opening Day, but you’ll be quickly forgiven. Let that hyperbole flow.
Here’s the best part about Opening Day in 2018: Major League Baseball stopped screwing with it. It’s for everyone, just like it should be.
All we used to know about Opening Day was the Reds were going to play first, and then everyone else would play shortly after. Cincinnati was the host of Opening Day almost every year since the 1870s, and by 1920s, there were parades and traditions and temporary seats set up in the outfield to handle the overflow. It didn’t matter why Cincinnati was the Opening Day capital, but it was always a given the Reds would have the privilege of opening the Major League Baseball season.
Cincinnati was so protective of their traditional opener status that in 1988 the city council voted to turn back the clocks in Cincinnati on Opening Day, to ensure that the Reds played the “first” game of the season.
At some point in the 19th or early-20th century, opening day turned into Opening Day, and it ran through Cincinnati. There weren’t a lot of reasons to question why this was. There wasn’t a lot of currency in saying, “Sayyyy, why do the Reds get the first game of every season?” It just was. Somebody had to play the first game. Why not the Reds? Why not the Reds every season? It was what we were used to, and they could have it. Everyone else got to play later in the day anyway, so it was fine. Everyone got to share Opening Day.
Then baseball got cute.
I’m not sure who first came up with the idea that baseball should have multiple opening days, but here’s what I’m picturing: Someone less than a decade removed from college was sitting in a meeting, wearing an expensive suit, leaning back in an office chair, and looking up at the ceiling, with his feet propped up on the conference table. He said something like, “Maybe we should open the season ... in another country,” and, boom, that’s all it took. Memos were sent, and people were writing memos to circle back on those memos.
This person probably works in marketing for Dow Chemicals now, and he has no idea that it’s Opening Day.
To be fair, there is intrinsic value to baseball’s international outreach, and there could be baseball fans who discovered the game only when the Rockies played the Padres in Mexico to start the 1999 season. There were dollars made by ESPN when they broadcast the only game of the day, and there were companies willing to spend those dollars. The real Opening Day started the next day, and no one really cared that it wasn’t in Cincinnati. It was a little strange that there was an opening day before the Opening Day, but make those dollars and new fans when you can grab them.
The next year, the first two games were in Japan. Because the Cubs and Mets flew around the world, they couldn’t just slip back into their normal schedule the following day. That meant for three days, the Cubs and Mets were tied for the best record in baseball at 1-1, while the rest of baseball sat around and waited for the real Opening Day that somehow felt less like an Opening Day because there already was an opening day. Cubs fans and Mets fans got to sit around and wait for the third game of the season like greedy kids who opened their only Christmas present on Dec. 21.
But at least that game started at 10 a.m. in Chicago and 11 a.m. in New York. Years later, baseball got drunk and planned an opener in Australia between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. The opener started at 2 a.m. local time in Los Angeles and Arizona, which cancelled out whatever benefits were created by introducing international fans to Major League Baseball. Maybe you had a few Australians who decided to follow MLB more intently. But you certainly had several million people in the actual target markets who weren’t able to watch Opening Day live, which was an incredible waste.
The secret to baseball’s popularity probably doesn’t involve tape-delaying the most anticipated game of the season. I’m no MBA, but that theory seems sound.
The good news is not everyone had to wait for baseball that opening day because there were 16 games. Three teams actually played two games that day because of hot, hot split-squad action. Those were spring training games, though, and if the other teams wanted real baseball, they would have to wait more than a week for it. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks would return to the United States and play more exhibition games just because.
The Dodgers also played a random regular-season game against the Padres on the Sunday before the real Opening Day for some reason, which meant they had played three games before 27 different teams started their season. It was just so incredibly stupid.
Now the floodgates were open, and baseball started slapping games wherever they felt like it. There were isolated games on Sunday, and then there were several of them, all staggered throughout the day to give hardcore baseball fans something that approximated an NFL Sunday, except nobody really wanted a fake NFL Sunday to start the season, they just wanted the stupid season to start like it always did, on a Monday along with every other team.
Nobody liked the staggered season openers. The players didn’t like it. The fans didn’t like it. It probably annoyed the people at ESPN from the top to the bottom, and the returns couldn’t have been that great. If there’s a study about a sustained spike in MLB interest in Japan, Mexico, and Australia because of how seasons opened in those countries, I’d love to read it, but I’m skeptical that spike exists.
We’re back to the old beauty of Opening Day, though. I’m not sure if it’s a hiccup, if baseball is doing this on purpose, or if they’re just between wacky ideas, but let’s appreciate this day. Sure, the Reds game is already rained out, and it wasn’t going to be the start of the season anyway. And, sure, it’s on a Thursday instead of the traditional Monday, and the Pirates are playing the Tigers, which doesn’t make a lick of sense, dammit, but it’s still Opening Day.
The Reds’ rainout is probably a sign that the baseball gods are still mad at everyone. This was just a warning shot. The baseball gods have plans if MLB doesn’t stop screwing with Opening Day.
My solution is to stop screwing with Opening Day. Fifteen games, 30 teams. All on the same day. Let us gorge from the trough of baseball and wake up with a bellyache the next day.
This is how it should be.
This is how it always should have been. Welcome to Opening Day for everyone.
NO MARCH 21 GAMES IN DUBAI.
NO NFL SUNDAY FOR EIGHT TEAMS AND OPENING MONDAY FOR 22 OTHERS.
STOP SCREWING AROUND WITH OPENING DAY, YOU GOOBERS. DO IT JUST LIKE THIS NEXT YEAR. DO IT EXACTLY LIKE THIS.
And maybe give the Reds the first game next year, just to be sure.