Thursday, March 29, 2012

Did You Know That The Season Has Started?

       By Ross Newhan

       I don't get it.

      I'm not talking about the Dodger sale, although there are things about that convoluted process I don't get but first I figure it will take me a full week to work my way through Thursday's rhapsodic coverage in the L.A. Times regarding Earvin (Magic) Johnson and his purchase.

      What I don't get is baseball opening another season in the middle of the night.

      In fact, you may not even be aware of this--especially if you live in L.A., which may be the first city to hold a parade in tribute to an ownership change--but the 2012 baseball season has already begun.

     The Seattle Mariners have a 1-1 record, and the Oakland A's have a 1-1 record.

     Clearly, Albert Pujols has his work cut out if the Angels are going to catch up.

    Opening day used to be a special occasion in baseball. For many years and decades there would be a day game in Cincinnati. Schools would be out. People would gather around their radio, and later their television. In Washington, the President would often throw out the first ball (now, of course, even the 25th player is paid more than the President).

    It's supposed to be the National Pastime, you know.

   Now MLB seems to take special delight in opening in Japan.

   The two games between the A's and Mariners started at 3 in the morning if you live on the West Coast, which is home to both teams.

   I understand's baseball's increasingly global reach and the marketing and merchandising rewards that accompany it. I understand that participating teams and players earn a bonus for putting up with the jet lag and that the expenses are covered by MLB and Japanese interests.

  What has all of that got to do with turning the opening of the season into just another day that draws little or no attention except from the most insomniac of seamheads?

   Too bad. There were some things worth noting in these two games.

  The Mariners won the first, 3-1, with King Felix Hernandez in mid-season form (he allowed one run and five hits in eight innings) and one of baseball's best young players, Dustin Ackley, getting a home run and game-winning hit. (Ichiro Suzuki, thrilling the capacity crowd, got the first four of his usual 200 hits, but then Ichiro can get four hits in a game on any continent).

  In Oakland's 4-1 win in the second game, coveted Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes, hit his first major league home run, and Bartolo Colon--at 38, 10 years older than any A's teammate--threw eight strong innings for the win.

  I called Rob Manfred, baseball's Executive Vice President, Labor Relations and Human Resources, on Thursday to ask why his industry continues to hold its opening series without the panoply that U.S. fans normally associate with an opener and, in fact, without the majority of U.S. fans even being aware the season was opening.

   "We realize that the symbolism of opening day is important to all of our fans," Manfred said. "But from a strategic standpoint we are commited to the continuing expansion of baseball and our international revenue streams, and the only time we can get teams to Japan and back is for opening day."

   The A's, having already played games that count, now return to California for four exhibition games against their Sacramento farm club and the San Francisco Giants. The poor Mariners, having already played games that count and a team that annually chalks up more air miles than any other, now must return to Arizona for five exhibitions before they and the A's reopen the season in Oakland on April 6. The Mariners then go to Texas for a three game series before finally opening at home on April 13.

   Strategic commitment is obviously important to MLB, but the symbolism of opening day once was as well.    

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