Major League Baseball outsources Opening Day
March 30, 2012
On Wednesday, March 28, I stumbled out of bed at 6:15 a.m. I turned off my alarm clock and grabbed a towel for the shower. Then, as I do almost every morning, I flipped on my computer to check out the morning’s sports stories.
On ESPN.com (my homepage), I was drawn to the baseball scores, where I noticed a game was currently in progress. Seattle Mariners vs. Oakland A’s, 0-0, bottom of the 1st. Opening Day was finally here…at 6:18 in the morning.
To be fair, the game was played in Tokyo. Japan is a baseball-crazy nation, and the Tokyo Dome was filled with 44,227 fervent Japanese fans. Not one of them seemed to mind that the teams they’d come to see were two of the worst in Major League Baseball. The Seattle Mariners (67-95 in 2011) and Oakland A’s (74-88 in 2011) were still given a warm reception in the Land of the Rising Sun.
7,000 miles away, none of this really mattered to me. I just couldn’t figure why Major League Baseball had decided to outsource one of its greatest traditions.
For baseball fans, Opening Day is like Christmas morning. It’s the first game of the season, everybody is in first place, and anything seems possible. In Cincinnati, Opening Day is an unofficial civic holiday, as Reds fans take the day off and go to a parade downtown before heading to the ballpark.
The first game of the season is always filled with the pageantry and nostalgia that baseball seems to capture better than any other sport. To understand the popularity of Opening Day, consider this: in 2011, the Opening Day attendance for the Cleveland Indians, my favorite team, was almost 42,000 people. The attendance for their second game: 9,853.
I guess I just don’t understand what Major League Baseball is trying to accomplish by outsourcing Opening Day to the Far East.
I realize that America’s pastime is quickly becoming a global sport. Major League rosters are now filled with players from Asia and Latin America, and the game is quickly gaining popularity around the world.
One of the Mariner’s best players is Japanese legend Ichiro, and the team is owned by Japanese video game mogul Hiroshi Yamauchi (who has never actually seen his team play in person and was not at the game).
Still, I just don’t see the logic in holding Opening Day halfway around the world. While baseball may be becoming a global game, I hope Opening Day remains an American tradition. It would be a shame for Major League Baseball to lose sight of its passionate fans stateside.
Opening day is a chance for longtime fans to reconnect with the game of baseball and for new fans to experience it for the first time. Even as Major League Baseball attempts to widen its global appeal, depriving Mariners and A’s fans of one of the most cherished days on the baseball calendar seems almost criminal.
By holding the first game of the season in Japan, Major League Baseball prevented most American fans from truly experiencing Opening Day. However, not everyone was deterred by the 16-hour time difference.
Seattle Mariners fans faced a unique challenge in supporting their team on Opening Day. With the first pitch of the Mariners’ first game of the season set for 3:10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, their options for watching the game from Seattle were limited. So they did what any rational baseball fan would do: they headed to the ballpark.
Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, hosted a small predawn watch party so fans of the team could take in Opening Day, live from Tokyo. While the city slept, these fans watched one of the more memorable opening days in recent memory. Seattle’s Dustin Ackley drilled a home run to center field, and Ichiro tied a team record for Opening Day hits. The Mariners won 4-2 in the 11th inning, meaning fans in Seattle had to stay even later.
Or earlier, depending on your perspective.