Opening season in Japan does audience no favors
SURPRISE, Ariz. – Baseball has gotten itself into something here with this opening series in Japan.
Really, it depends on where you are. The timing isn’t awful unless you happen to live on the West Coast. In, say, Seattle or Oakland.
There are, of course, some wonderful things to say about the series, its globalization of the sport, its branding of MLB and the A’s and Mariners, and its keeping Ichiro’s personal endorsement possibilities alive. It’s the least the league can do, given how it steals Japan’s best pitchers.
On the other hand, the games will be played at a reasonable hour only in Japan, meaning opening day not only will be held a week before opening day, but at an hour when the only people awake in North America are 7-Eleven clerks and Boston Red Sox relievers on muscle relaxers.
Three-ten. In the morning.
“Oh,” he said. “No.”
Next to Young, Ian Kinsler perked up.
“TiVo,” he said.
Baseball Fever. Catch it later. Much later.
MLB has done this in Japan three times before, all in the past 12 years, from the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs in 2000, to the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in 2004, then the Red Sox and A’s in 2008.
They keep scheduling them, so there must be some benefit. They’ve also – for the first time – put seven days between the games in Tokyo and the resumption of the regular season, which means the Mariners will play two real games, followed by five exhibition games, followed by 160 real games. The A’s have a similar schedule, with four spring games separating their regular seasons.
At some point, you’re just trying too hard.
There’s something wrong when two AL West teams are playing, when Felix Hernandez and Brandon McCarthy are pitching, and a spin around the Rangers’ clubhouse unearths not a single person who’ll be watching.
“I’ll watch the highlights,” David Murphy said.
“Never,” Josh Hamilton said.
“I see enough baseball during the year to stay up ‘til 3 to watch more,” Joe Beimel said.
“I’ll be deep in sleep,” Texas manager Ron Washington said.
You don’t schedule a baseball game for last call.
Every four years this probably sounds like a good idea, like the college road trip to Ensenada that starts with great enthusiasm and ends with the Federales rifling through your luggage on a dark and terribly lonely stretch of Carretera Transpeninsular.
You know, just to cite one possible scenario from 1981.
Stateside, the Mariners have chosen to make a party of it. They’ve invited 170 season-ticket holders to the Terrace Club at the ballpark, where they’ll watch Wednesday morning’s game on television.
Parking is free. The cost is the rest of your Wednesday.
The A’s appear to have nothing planned, which makes sense. Nobody goes to their ballpark when there’s an actual game going on there.
Bud Selig means no harm with his hardball manifest destiny. Indeed, much good is coming of it. MLB donated $500,000 to refurbish a baseball field in an area destroyed by last year’s earthquake and tsunami. Mariners players and coaches hosted a baseball clinic for the children there. The A’s visited with troops at a U.S. air base.
And that’s all great.
But MLB’s first responsibility is to its game, its fans and its players. When your fans can’t watch and your players need a week to recover, something’s wrong. When you play the game in Japan but the land where the sun is rising is your own, something’s wrong. When opening day is utterly lost in the heartbeat of someone else’s stadium, across too many time zones, and in the dead of night, something’s wrong.
Again, maybe it sounded like a good idea at the time.
So did that roady to Ensenada.
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