Opening Day is a national treasure. As players put on their fresh new uniforms and take the diamond for the first time, a new season offers new life to Major League Baseball (MLB) franchises.
This year, Opening Day is earlier than it has ever been. Officially, MLB’s Opening Day is scheduled for March 28, when all 30 teams are scheduled to play. Before this season, the earliest Opening Day was March 29 of last year. The unofficial holiday was moved up a week in 2018 under the MLB’s new scheduling agreement.
Two teams have already finished their opening series. The Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners played a series in Japan earlier this week, which will count toward their official season records.
Starting the season earlier allows teams more days for rest and recovery, as well as more opportunities to reschedule, according to the agreement. However, starting the season in March will take away from the hype and allure of one of sports’ most historic days.
With its new placement on the sports calendar, Opening Day will be forced to take a back seat to the NCAA’s March Madness. In its normally scheduled place, the games did not interfere with college basketball’s biggest days.
As a result, the beginning of “America’s Favorite Pastime” will be hidden and forgotten as viewers become more focused on their brackets than their ballparks. This was the case a year ago, when baseball’s opening week’s viewership dropped 32 percent from the year prior, according to Sports Media Watch.
Now, the MLB is hoping to expand its brand further into the international market through this week’s Japan Series, but in the process has changed the meaning of Opening Day. It is no longer the beginning of the baseball season; that came at 4:30 a.m. on a Wednesday when most of America was still asleep. Very few people in the United States were able to properly ring in the beginning of the MLB season.
Beyond the viewership limitations, the Japan Series also attacks one of the fundamental roles of baseball as America’s Pastime. When the first games of the 2019 season were moved across the Pacific Ocean, the MLB placed its business interests above the interests of its constituents: the American fans.
There are other logistical problems with moving teams’ opening series into the month of March. Last year, Opening Day games in Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis and Boston were all struck with snow and below- freezing temperatures. There is no sense in playing an outdoor sport when there is snow on the ground. Even one week’s change in temperature would have been enough to make Opening Day a more pleasant experience for baseball’s fans.
The MLB’s decision to move up Opening Day is its own form of March madness. The move depreciates the value of the first week of games and takes away from the allure of the return of peanuts and cracker jacks to baseball parks across the country.