MLB Opening Day A Reason to Celebrate

My daughter sent me a poem this week called “The Catch,” by Simon Armitage, the winning poet in the United Kingdom. I haven’t studied poetry in many years, so maybe there’s a deeper meaning or symbol here. But it seems like enough for the opening day:

forget
the tall, smoky
afternoon. This is it

this time
when the ball scoots
from the edge

to bat; up,
backward, fall
daw

beyond him
he even reached out
and select it

save
in its loop
like in

an apple
from a branch,
the first of the season.

This season in Major League Baseball, too, seems out of place for us. For 99 grueling days, club owners and players fought and posed and threatened to take it away. But here it is, again and again, our annual symbol of growth and change and the promise of warm days ahead. To quote another Englishman, Sir Paul McCartney: It comes, like a flower.

Baseball has its flaws. It always has and always will happen. Nowadays it always faces the worse: multiple strikeouts, home runs and pitch changes. All aspects of the game, in and of themselves, can be exciting. But, at its best, the game of baseball is a more balanced diet.

The alarmists concluded that this lack of action damaged the bad old game. But if you study the history of baseball, you will see that people always make excuses to criticize the game. Each generation considers itself faster than the latter, so baseball, which can keep you in action, is an easy target.

“For a game that depicts America and the American spirit, baseball is very slow,” wrote Damon Runyon, in 1922. “It’s definitely one of the slowest of the games. The actual game is very fast. The preliminaries leading up to that play drag. It takes an average of two hours to play a baseball game. ”

A century later, it would take more than three hours. In any case, Runyon was in no hurry to avoid the game: He covered it with such distinction that he was one of the first writers to be honored with the Baseball Hall of Fame.

People just like to complain about baseball. It’s a hobby in itself, and I understand. I hope the players steal a lot of bases. I hope the teams get pitchers to work well in games. I wish baseball cards were cheaper and World Series games started earlier and advertising patches would never be allowed on uniforms. (They will arrive next season.)

But baseball is thriving. In 1975, when Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on “The Baseball Boom,” more than half of the league’s major teams (14 out of 24) averaged and under 14,500 fans per game. In 2019, the last season with full human capacity allowed across, only one of 30 teams, the Miami Marlins, failed to break that standard.

Attendance has continued to decline over the past few seasons; in 2019, it reduced about 2,000 fans per game from five seasons previously. Yet baseball will still attract more than 68.5 million fans in 2019, reducing the combined total for the NBA in the 2018-19 season (about 22 million) and the NFL, at full capacity, in 2021 (over 18 million).

Baseball has many more dates to sell, of course, but that’s the point. No matter what spoilsports are said, the league is popular enough to maintain an average crowd of more than 28,000 (in 2019) in 81 regular season home games for each franchise. Millions enjoy the daily companionship that only baseball has to offer.

“I think for the people at the clubhouse and for the people who love the game – who follow it every day – baseball is with you every day,” Rocco Baldelli, manager of the Minnesota Twins, said this spring. “And it’s not just about what you do, it’s really who you are, in some ways. I like to show up at the ballpark every day, and I think people like to turn on the television and play a baseball game to have fun every day. ”

Baldelli was speaking at the Twins ’spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Where the league’s minor clubhouse has a giant image of Kirby Puckett scaling up the wall to capture the World Series. In 1989, Twins made Puckett the first major leaguer with an annual salary of $ 3 million. Today, their new shortstop, Carlos Correa, makes $ 35.1 million annually, a record for an infielder.

Correa has an opt-out clause on his three-year, $ 105.3 million contract, so he can leave after this season. But the fact that he got his deal from the small Twins market speaks well for the health of the industry. The Twins struggled last season and spent money to recover. Other teams that lost records in 2021 – the Colorado Rockies, the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers – have also made nine -figure contracts with free agents: Kris Bryant for Colorado, Javier Báez for in Detroit, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien for Texas.

The Mariners, eager to end a 21 -year postseason drought, lured 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner, Robbie Ray, to Seattle for five years and $ 115 million. Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Pittsburgh have made franchise-record contract agreements with homegrown players: the Rays with Wander Franco, the Guardians with José Ramírez, the Pirates with Ke’Bryan Hayes. Even the Miami Marlins signed World Series Most Valuable Player, Jorge Soler, far behind their Atlanta division rivals.

That’s how the market should operate. Some teams, such as the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics, have made many trades that reduce costs. The Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks have done little to improve their 110-loss rosters. But almost every team can expect to compete – now.

There’s almost always a solid reason to watch: a top prospect making his debut, a veteran where it all started, an hour back from injury-and it’s only there at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday, with Bobby Witt Jr. (the rookie Kansas City infielder), Zack Greinke (the former Royal back in blue) and Shane Bieber (the Cy Young Award winner for Cleveland in 2020).

There are changes these days: the designated hitter in all games; 28-man rosters through May 1; in-game replay review announcements by umpires; third wild-card playoff team in each league; and the introduction of PitchCom-a wearable communication tool that allows catchers to send encrypted signals to pitchers and fielders.

Other innovations, such as larger bases, a shift ban and the automated ball-strike system (let’s say robot umpires, for fun) aren’t here yet. Some were dropped, like seven-inning games during doubleheaders, and others continued, like the automatic runner at second base to start more innings.

Television viewing is also on the rise, as baseball is on the rise on streaming platforms. Two games per Friday will only be available on Apple TV+ (starting with the Mets ’game against the Nationals and the Astros’ matchup with the Angels this Friday). Another weekly game, beginning May 8, will be shown exclusively on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, on Sunday mornings, sometime at 11:30 am Eastern time.

TBS will air a game every Tuesday night, ESPN every Sunday night. Fox will broadcast the usual buffet, including regular-season telecasts, the All-Star Game, the Field of Dreams Game and the World Series.

Those networks are not stupid. They are attracted to baseball because people still care about it. Baseball is easy to love, if you allow it – as easy as grabbing an apple from a branch at the start of a new season.

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