The First Countdown: 2023 Opening Day brings new urgency to MLB

All 30 MLB teams begin their seasons Thursday. Here are some countdowns you might need to know.

The minute hand is approaching The Time, and you are scrambling in the kitchen. You stick the snacks in the crook of your elbow, hold the napkins between your cheek and shoulder, grab the beverages, race-walk to the couch, unburden yourself and snap to attention. The commercial is ending.

Appointment viewing is what all entertainment aspires to be — a more aspirational goal than ever in 2023 — for reasons involving both vast sums of money and the good feelings unlocked by communal enthusiasm. You scooch yourself further into the couch.

A clock appears on the screen, ticking down, setting a tone. This is it: the new season.

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But it’s not a “24” reboot. There’s no Jack Bauer (or any other Bauer). This is Major League Baseball, season 120 of the modern World Series era, season 76 of the integration era, season 28 of the wild-card era and season one of the pitch timer era.

This is a season about urgency — or at least, it’s trying to be.

All 30 MLB teams are slated to begin their seasons Thursday, starting at 1:05 p.m. ET, when the Washington Nationals host the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees host the San Francisco Giants. At the appointed hour, all manner of countdowns will begin.

Here are some of the big ones you might need to know to appreciate baseball in 2023.


15 (sometimes 20) seconds: The pitch timer is here. After years of discussion and consternation, baseball’s most literal, most noticeable ticking clock has been a hit in spring training. Pitchers have 15 seconds after receiving the ball to begin their motion when the bases are empty and 20 seconds with men on. Batters must be in the box and “alert to the pitcher” with eight seconds remaining. And for the first time since the 1980s, you can probably enjoy nine brisk innings and move on with your evening in about 2 1/2 hours.

2 disengagements: Relatedly, pickoff moves (and other moments in which the pitcher steps off the mound without using a mound visit) are now limited. Pitchers can make only two throws to a base per plate appearance before triggering a strategically fascinating, zero-sum scenario: Throwing over a third time is allowed, but the pitcher must get the runner, or else he is awarded the next base.

215 days: The most pressurized situation in baseball will be a slower burn. The Los Angeles Angels have spent years losing just enough to keep baseball’s most interesting and most spectacular players off the big stage, and though Mike Trout has willingly signed on long-term, the otherworldly, still ascendant Shohei Ohtani is one season — about 215 days — from free agency. Fresh off a fever dream showdown that decided the World Baseball Classic, the baseball world is wrapped up in Ohtani Watch. Can the Angels do enough to get him to October? To convince him to stay? If not, who will put their best foot forward ahead of perhaps the biggest bidding war baseball has ever seen?

6 years of service time: Whether it’s new draft incentives in the collective bargaining agreement, a collective capitulation to fan pressure or pure happenstance, Opening Day is now the day to see many of the game’s most intriguing young players. Get ready for Anthony Volpe in the Bronx. Jordan Walker in St. Louis. A newly extended Corbin Carroll debuted last season and now will take his place as a cornerstone in Arizona. The system is still far from perfect, but the game’s most exciting prospects are getting a fairer shake. Even if just for the sake of content, we’ll take it.


1 to 3 years (down from 3 to 5): When hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen bought the New York Mets, he proclaimed an expectation that the club would win the World Series in three to five years. Well, it’s Year 3, and he has committed a record $374 million to the 2023 payroll — plus another $100 million or so in taxes — to accomplish the goal, ratcheting up the stakes for a star-studded team that now includes Justin Verlander and rattling less ambitious owners around the sport. Of course, Cohen is just the vocal lightning rod. The San Diego Padres’ Peter Seidler has poured a similarly jaw-dropping amount of money into the quest to bring superstars, baseball exuberance and a World Series to his city.

Urgency, especially from the top down, has not always been a feature of MLB, and it’s not guaranteed to last. This baseball season might stir things up, might break some hearts. It might not be perfect or reach an Ohtani-Trout-level conclusion.

But finding out? That’s appointment television.

Happy Opening Day.