My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center. Any thoughts?
Opening Day always has been a very special day for me. Baseball brings the promise of spring, even though winter seems to linger into mid May in stupid-weather Chicago.
My first vivid memory of Opening Day was in 1968 when the White Sox opened at home against Cleveland. I was an 8-year-old just beginning my obsession with baseball. Somehow, I always seemed to manage to will myself to get sick so I could stay home from school to watch the season opener. And it wasn’t some wimpy cold. I had a conveniently-timed string of mono, measles and strep throats in successive early Aprils. I couldn’t have been happier with my 102-fever as I settled into the couch for a day of baseball.
The record shows Cleveland, behind Sonny Siebert, slaughtered my Sox 9-0 in the ’68 opener. Yet that hardly dimmed my enthusiasm, as 47 years later, I am eagerly awaiting another White Sox Opening Day.
However, there’s a problem. The Sox open Monday afternoon in Kansas City. I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t miss work even when I do get sick. As a result, I won’t be able to watch most of the game.
I am sure plenty of other people are in the same boat. MLB has scheduled 14 openers on Monday, and all but three are at night. Many of those fans will be working or commuting home during those games. It never made sense to me that this glorious day always is on a weekday.
Here’s a way to remedy the situation: MLB should schedule a grand Opening Day festival on the Sunday between the NCAA Final Four semifinals on Saturday and the title game on the following Monday. Start with noon games in the East and go through ESPN’s Sunday night telecast.
Technically, there will be an opener on Sunday night, as St. Louis-Cubs kick off the 2015 season on ESPN. That’s great, but what about the rest of the day?
From a TV perspective, the Sunday afternoon on Final Four weekend might be the deadest of the year. It definitely is my least favorite. After several Sundays of March Madness, there’s the letdown of not having any big college basketball games to watch. It is the Sunday before the Masters, so no compelling golf. The NBA and NHL are grinding down their endless regular-seasons, desperately waiting for the infusion of the energy that comes with the playoffs.
Meanwhile, if the weather holds true to form, the false spring will prevent a significant portion of the country, including those stuck in Chicago, from enjoying outdoor activities. Like me, they are homebound just dying to watch some interesting sports programming on this empty Sunday.
Given all those variables, it makes so much sense for MLB to go with wall-to-wall openers on that Sunday. Baseball fans would devour a slate of Sunday Opening Day games, and a high volume of non-traditional viewers likely would tune in because the sports TV programming is so weak on that day. Who knows, perhaps some of them would get hooked and become more avid baseball fans?
With the right marketing, MLB could make Opening Day Sunday into a quasi-national holiday. No need to miss work or stay home from school. Everyone would be able to enjoy the great pitching match-ups of No. 1 starters and the unique color and pageantry that come with Game 1 of the 162-game season.
I broached the Sunday Opening Day concept to MLB. Spokesman Matt Bourne said new commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff are exploring ideas with the schedule.
“All areas of the schedule are under review for the 2016 season,” Borne said in an email.
The commissioner already has done some forward thinking on the back end of the schedule with a recently announced plan to have the final games of the season on Oct. 4 all start at the same time.
“If a game impacts another game, they’re all occurring at the same time, so no team would be put into a lame-duck situation because their fate already had been decided by an earlier result,” said Tony Petitti, MLB chief operating officer, in a Los Angeles Times story.
“If we do have games coming down to the wire, we want to make sure we maximize that day.”
Sounds like a great idea. Clearly, Manfred is a progressive leader who is open to new ideas.
MLB, though, would have to do some juggling to implement the Opening Day Sunday concept. ESPN has an exclusive deal to air baseball’s season opener, serving as a stand-alone game on that particular day. Note: It hasn’t always been on a Sunday. In recent years, openers have aired on Wednesday and Thursdays.
Perhaps a solution would be for ESPN to telecast the season opener on Saturday afternoon prior to the Final Four game, or on the previous Friday night? In both cases, it would be wide open in terms of sports TV competition.
Listen, I know I don’t know all the variables involved here. There are people who get paid a lot of money to figure out this stuff. Maybe this concept can’t be worked out.
However, it still is something that should be considered. At a time when all sports think out of the box, a special Opening Day Sunday package would create a much-needed buzz for baseball. Besides, that Sunday is just screaming for baseball to seize it.
Nothing would please this old fan more than on Sunday, April 3, 2016, when it is 38 degrees and drizzling in Chicago, to be able watch a full day of games starting the new season. Unlike when I was a kid, the only fever I’d have would be baseball fever.