Tuesday, March 30, 2004

An American Tradition in Japan

My schedule is a little bit off today. I had leftovers from my trip to Olive Garden with Brandi this weekend, so I brought that in for lunch today. I had some other stuff I needed to take care of, so I stayed in and ate at my desk instead of going out for lunch, which I usually do. I can count on one hand the number of times I've stayed in the office for my lunch break, and I've been here for over two years.

That wasn't the only difference. My alarm clock was set for 4:55 this morning, and I actually got out of bed when it went off. I moved from my bed out onto the couch in the living room so I could catch at least a little bit of the first official Major League Baseball game of the season, between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

This game was televised live from Tokyo, Japan. That's why it was on at 5:00 a.m.

Major League Baseball has problems. Ten years ago, there were labor issues that shortened the season and forced the cancellation of the World Series. A lot of fans gave up on baseball at that point. The home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 brought some back, but not all. Now there are financial disparities so great that some teams are virtually eliminated from competition from the beginning of the season (for instance, the Yankees are paying $22 million this season just for third baseman Alex Rodriguez; their opponent this morning, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, are paying approximately that much for their entire roster). Also, there's the interesting little question of whether or not some players are juicing themselves up with steroids. With all of these issues swirling around, plus several others, it's no wonder that baseball isn't nearly as popular as it used to be.

One obvious way to cater to fans and try to win them back is to stage the opening of the season on an entirely different continent, at a time when most of the U.S. is asleep and can't even watch on television.

For any of you who didn't get the memo, that was sarcasm. This was a terrible idea.

Baseball's Opening Day used to be a big deal. Almost every team started play on the same day, and it was cause for celebration. Spring was here, and baseball was back. It was nice. The honor of opening the baseball season with the earliest game on Opening Day always belonged to the Cincinnati Reds, as baseball's oldest professional franchise. Opening Day is still a big deal in Cincinnati, but it no longer kicks off the season. Now the opening game of the season is between two random teams, usually in a different country. For a sport that is known as the "American Pastime," and for one that generally is so wrapped up in history and tradition, I cannot fathom why this practice has changed.

I know that baseball has become dependent, to a certain extent, on other countries and regions, such as Japan and Latin America. Look at major league rosters, and they're dotted (and in some cases lined) with players from these areas. I like the idea of opening the sport up to these areas and creating more exposure. I just don't think this is the way to do it. I think it alienates fans here in the U.S., who are and always will be far and away the largest fan base for a professional sport with teams located only in North America. Baseball already alienates the fans in too many ways, and in this case the people in charge are just putting one more thing on the list.

They've been kicking around the idea of a World Cup of Baseball for quite some time. I think that's an awesome idea, if they can get the logistics figured out. That would be a great way to include the whole world in "our" sport. I don't know if MLB would send maybe the champions of the World Series, or if they'd put together an all-star team of sorts, but either way I think it could be a lot of fun.

I'm a huge fan of sports, and while football and basketball are now my favorites, baseball is my first love. I just hope someday it can get back to being the great sport it used to be.

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