There was a lot to love about Opening Day of the 2017 Season. We got to see Madison Bumgarner become the first pitcher to hit two home runs on Opening Day, the Giants bullpen treated us a bit of a throwback by blowing the game in the later innings, Jeremy Hellickson hit a TRIPLE, Mark Trumbo quieted the haters with a walk-off homer, Rougned Odor hit two homers for his two new horses and at the end of the night we got an insane interview with Jose Canseco, who was told to “be careful” because “there’s not delay.” Jose Canseco’s reply? “Oh don’t worry, I was just talking.” AMAZING.
I am always a bit overwhelmed by Opening Day. I feel the need to watch as much baseball as possible like it’s going to be November in an instant. That’s the interesting thing about Opening Day: I’m ready for it, I’ve been prepping for it, but it always catches me off guard.
Two years ago I made the best purchase of my life by subscribing to MLB.TV. This is the only automatic purchase that doesn’t kick me in the balls every year. I see it come up on my Mint App, which is lit and can be found here. Seriously, MLB.TV is the best… except if you want to watch in-market games like I did when I bought it, but it’s given me the opportunity to watch teams I wouldn’t normally watch. I used to work late-ish nights when I worked retail, so the only games still going on would be out West. I grew to appreciate a Kershaw Curve like a fine Renaissance painting, I grew to understand how Bruce Bochy’s mind worked, I started to comprehend the immense darkness that is being an Oakland A’s fan. But above all else, MLB.TV allows me to watch every Opening Day game. Every. Single. One. And that’s the best thing about it.
Watching 4 games at once is like being in your own personal Buffalo Wild Wings minus the impending diarrhea. It’s pretty great. I can flip between Houston and Arlington, Washington and New York, even Los Angeles and Minnesota. It’s great and it’s a lot, but it’s the best kind of a lot.
However, this year it didn’t feel like a lot, and that was 100% due to the fact that Opening Day wasn’t a day at all. The 2017 MLB Opening Day will have lasted 36 hours, or one-and-a-half days. I can hear you screaming from here, “Justin, who cares? It’s more baseball!” It’s not that I’m complaining, I’m just a little bit baffled. I’ll explain.
Last year, the Mets started the season in Kansas City against the Royals. ESPN had the broadcast and they made the call to air the entire pregame ceremony. Players getting rings, showing off the Royals gold uniforms, and even the fireworks display while unveiling the World Series banner. It made me so mad in the best of ways, and I knew it made the Mets mad. This team embarrasses you at home on the biggest stage in the game and your first game back is watching them gloat and flash the spoils of victory? No, you don’t sit back and take that lightly. And then throughout the FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON, ESPN had the audacity to air segments about Alcides Escobar and LITERALLY TALK ABOUT HOW MANY FRIENDS ERIC HOSMER HAS. THAT’S NOT A JOKE.
It was a big deal. It was huge and that game brought us right back to where left off, with the Royals and Mets just trying to kill each other. One team trying to establish dominance and one team trying to prove they could have won. That first game was electric. It the tone for the season. It set the bar high for the rest of the year.
The first game of the season was the New York Yankees versus the Tampa Bay Rays played at Tropicana Field in Tampa, Florida. 31,042 fans bought tickets, that’s 72% of it’s full capacity.
Take a look a the photo above. If you look at the left and right sides you’ll see that only half of those sections are full, but the entire upper half of the stadium was unsold. Even the baseline boxes were peppered with empty seats. Now, those seats in the upper deck don’t get sold. In fact, Tropicana Field’s capacity has been cut by 11,000 fans since it’s opening in 1998. SEE HOW THIS DOESN’T LOOK GREAT. So why hold the very first game of the season in a stadium that looks like a half filled circus tent?
Rob Manfred, the MLB Commissioner has been on a crusade to, for lack of better terminology, “Make Baseball Hip Again.” That’s why we have logos on the sides of our hats, added game clocks, automatic intentional walks, half court shots, t-shirt guns (the only thing I’m cool with), etc. Manfred is trying to make the game more accessible, more like the NBA and NFL. The game needs to be exciting, not pedestrian.
As a vocal Baseball advocate, I encounter that line of thinking a lot. “Baseball is boring. It’s SO SLOW.” While I admit there is something intricate and insane about Josh Beckett adding 30 minutes to each game he pitched in, but the game of Baseball is boring on the surface. It’s not flash, it’s not pizazz, it’s a war fought in little battles. That’s what needs to be showcased, that’s what makes the game beautiful.
But Manfred, my boy, BOBBY, BOBBY, BOBBY BABY, BOBBY BUBBI, ROBBY, ROBERT DARLING, you’re not going to showcase the fun aspects of the game if I’m tuning into to 30,000 people inside of a used vacuum bag. So I have an idea, and I want to pitch it to you.
I’m not a big basketball guy. I mean, I can watch it and follow it, but I’m not driving to Springfield, MA to see Michael Jordan’s … statue? HOWEVER, I LOVE WATCHING BASKETBALL ON CHRISTMAS. I’m obsessed with it, you guys. The jerseys are cool, the games are good matchups, you can see four superstars in every game, and it put the whole sport and the whole league on display. It’s really amazing. It almost feels like a march madness round, except the players are getting paid millions of dollars and are getting paid to have their jerseys sold…
That’s what I’m talking about, Rob. You want people to get excited about the game? Give them one game to get them hooked and then reel them in with the rest. I didn’t need Yankees/Rays as the first game, in fact, it wasn’t even much of a game once it got started. Madison Bumgarner hitting two dingers in the second game? Awesome. The Cardinals getting revenge on their rivals the reigning world champions in the third game? Awesome. Give me those games, but give me one and then the rest.
When the Houston/Seattle game was beginning today, the Houston play-by-play announcer said “Welcome to Opening Day… Opening Night… Opening Evening… Heck, Welcome to Astros Baseball!” Opening Day is a collective release of the breath we’ve been holding since early November. It’s a welcomed jolt into the game. I’m just saying, if we’re worried about the life of the sport and about the staying power of the game then we should showcase it because when this game shines it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
Instead, the MLB gave the first game of the season to the one franchise that is struggling to find a home in the city they’ve been in for almost 20 years. At this point, it is difficult to tell fact from fiction when it comes to the chatter about Tampa Bay moving to Montreal. In 2016, the Rays had an average attendance of almost 16,000 fans, just over 50% full. Why? Why would you think this is the exciting game to start the season? I understand it’s not primetime, but still. It’s the first Sunday with Baseball, this is your moment to get those fans who aren’t into the game interested for at least a lazy Sunday. This relaxing, easy Sunday, and you gave them Tampa Bay? Come on.
So instead of starting us off with a baseball game being played underneath an elementary school parachute that hasn’t been cleaned in 30 years, maybe we should use the first game of the year to show the majesty of the game. In the words of Dwight Schrute, “Put your money beets on top, that’s how you get motorists to stop.” The Tampa Bay Rays are not the MLB’s money beets.