After a long winter and near-record cold in some areas, the rites of spring began this week. A key one kicked off Easter Sunday and Monday with two short words: play ball.
Across the United States, the Major League Baseball season is underway, as 15 teams hosted opening day, from the Chicago Cubs doing the honors on Opening Night, to the return of Alex Rodriguez to Yankee Stadium.
It even included the big debut of the stacked Dodgers lineup at Chavez Ravine.
Fans dreamt about summer days at the park, eating hot dogs in jerseys and sunglasses and summer nights listening to the action on the radio on the patio or front porch, enjoying a cold beverage.
There’s just one thing we have to get by first: this interminable winter. After fans in Philadelphia enjoyed temperatures in the 70s on Monday, conditions turned cold for the two nights of the Red Sox-Phillies series.
The mercury slowly trudged into the 40s the past couple days and made for miserable conditions across the Northeast. I summed up the mood fairly well Wednesday night, watching the Phils get their first win of the year:
Papelbon and the people sitting in the lower level at CBP look like they're more suited to go ice fishing than play baseball. — Marco Cerino (@CerinoRoyale) April 9, 2015
Baseball has a long season, with almost twice as many games played than the NBA and NHL. Unlike those sports, baseball is played mostly outdoors. Elements affect the game uniquely. We already saw a rainout Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, even though the rain never materialized.
It’s a disgrace to the game of baseball to see fans endure conditions that are expected during football season.
It’s bad enough the games are brutal early on, with limited offense and pace of play so slow the league is now enforcing new rules to crack down on long-winded batter’s box rituals.
Despite the massive television contracts that keep teams afloat, fiscal health heavily depends upon attendance. When it’s cold, few people want to go to the games.
Fortunately for baseball fans who prefer not to bundle up like Arctic explorers to watch the games live, there’s a viable solution. There are enough covered and warm-weather stadiums to host almost all the opening series.
While conditions of unseasonable cold continue year after year in the Northeast, fans and teams don’t have to suffer the refusal of Old Man Winter to go home.
Most of them would probably prefer waiting a little longer to enjoy opening day festivities if it means they get milder nights for the first few evening games, which means more would buy tickets.
We have 14 stadiums in warm-weather areas, or stadiums equipped with some roof covering apparatus, to ensure it won’t be that nasty. Atlanta, Miami, Tampa Bay, Houston, Texas, Arizona, both “LA” teams, San Diego, San Francisco and Oakland all fit the former criteria.
Seattle, Toronto and Milwaukee all have retractable roofs that would most likely be closed in early April. That’s an even split of seven teams per league, and wouldn’t cause too many issues with scheduling.
Teams would favor this, as some would get one cross-country swing started early and have less travel later in the season.
Given the amount of AL and NL Central teams who now choose to play spring training in Arizona, it makes sense for them to begin the season on the West Coast.
There’s one spot remaining and that belongs to one of baseball’s oldest and coolest traditions. The Cincinnati Reds began professional play in 1869, a few short years after the end of the Civil War.
They were already well-established when they joined the newly-formed National League in 1876. Their longevity has earned them the distinction of always hosting an Opening Day game.
For years, the season premiere took place by the Ohio River. There’s no compelling reason to take this honor from them.
Hopefully, soon, we’ll see the maligned Pete Rose, one of the most famous ballplayers for the club of all-time and still banned by baseball, throw out the first pitch.
Baseball is a game rich in old customs and has struggled to attract young fans. It’s hard to get kids to sit through nine innings of play while they’re little and have no desire to learn how to keep a scorecard.
Asking families to show up on a Thursday night and sit in the cold does the league no favors. I call on Commissioner Manfred and the scheduling committee to implement this plan and allow fans to enjoy the old ball game the way it was meant to be.
After all, buying some peanuts and Cracker Jacks is much easier when you’re not trying to keep your hands warm with hot chocolate.