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Modifying Baseball’s Start Ruins Tradition

By Yong-yi Zhu


Don’t you love the joys of Opening Day in baseball? It’s been a long winter, with icy roads, brutal snow and ridiculously cold temperatures. It’s great that spring is finally rolling around again. It’s finally time for us to get our ball caps on and go back out to the ballparks to enjoy some games. Opening Day means baseball is back.

But this year has seen a change from the normal routines of Opening Day. True, for several years now ESPN has been opening up the baseball season with a game the Sunday night before everyone else starts. To me, it carried some merit for those fans who are unable to obtain tickets to the game the next day, or who are unable to skip work to watch a baseball game. At least for them, there was some way of officially starting the season.

However, this year, Major League Baseball has decided to take Opening Day to a whole new level. While spring training goes on, the first two games of the season went over to Japan to have the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays play each other overseas as a special effort in globalization. The two teams then return home and conclude the rest of their spring training schedule before facing each other in the final game of that series yesterday.

Okay, so what were they thinking? Don’t get me wrong. I love globalization. I love it when countries compete with one another in sports. The World Cup of soccer is one of the only soccer events I watch because it includes so many nations, each with their best players. I am a big fan of the Olympics as well because of the competition among countries. I think it’s also great that football, the American variety, is finally being broadcast across the world. Imagine being out of the country during the playoff season and not being able to see a single game. That was what I had to struggle with over IAP.

I thought that when the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers opened their pre-season schedules last year with a game in Japan was brilliant. The important fact was this occurred during pre-season. Fans here don’t watch pre-season games on TV that religiously anyway. Being able to bring two professional teams to a country foreign to football and generate a fan base for the sport is a great idea. (True, the NFL probably brought in quite a hefty sum from this endeavor, but money for the league isn’t a bad thing.) The game didn’t detract from the American viewers, even if they are die-hard fans of the Skins and the 49ers. Being from the Washington D.C. area, I did not feel any resentment from the people or the press about losing a pre-season game to Japan.

However, as a baseball fan, I do feel resentment at losing my Opening Day to them. I did not understand why a country so far away got the chance to watch the beginning of our baseball season. Surely, MLB could have made it an exhibition game, and the fan base for Hideki Mastui would have been just the same. (Let’s be honest, nobody at the park was there to see the D-Rays, or the other Yankee players. Just remember that roar after Mastui hit the two-run homerun.) Not only does doing this detract from the traditions of baseball, but it makes it difficult to even watch the game; who gets up at five in the morning here anyway?

Another globalization issue that bugged me was how the Montreal Expos played half of their home games in San Juan last year. Talk about a total disadvantage. Not only did they have to play 81 road games, but they had to add another handful of “home” games onto that dreadful traveling schedule. How could that team have succeeded? They were way too tired, they were not accustomed to their "home" park and it appeared to just be a hassle.

Why doesn’t MLB simply move these globalization excursions to the pre-season? I’m sure that the Expos wouldn’t mind playing some games in San Juan over the course of spring; I’m sure that the Yankees and the Devil Rays would not have minded counting those two games in Japan as training. That way, we can not only bring American baseball to those that might not otherwise have an opportunity to see it, but we can also appease the American fans.

I love Opening Day and I just want to make sure that it stays the way it has been. After all, we don’t open our football, basketball, and hockey seasons outside the American time zones, do we? To move Opening Day would be just as bad as moving the Super Bowl. But at least for now, I’ll pretend like those two games never happened and that this week is the official start of baseball.