I admit I’m a little cranky that the temperature has been below average, generally well below, nearly every day since the groundhogs predicted an early spring. Particularly since I’m a bike commuter and have been stuck wearing a fleece vest under my jacket far longer than I would have liked. I’m not against winter, and don’t have a problem with being outside in the cold, in December (Ho, Ho, Ho) and January. I ride instead of skiing. I can just deal with things a little better at the appropriate time. Like baseball.
I just took a look at the Mets schedule, and it did nothing to lighten my mood. The good news is the team plays San Diego, Miami and Los Angeles in April. The bad news is those are the home games. The Mets also go on the road to…Minnesota and Colorado. Many of those games are likely to be played in freezing cold.
What is the appropriate time for baseball? Ask the trees. Although New York City’s ubiquitous London Plane street trees do so later, most deciduous trees in the New York area open their leaves within a few days either side of April 24. So I have observed since childhood. Baseball should be played when the leaves are on the trees.
Lots of fans get fired up to see Opening Day, which is why Opening Day seats generally cost far more than I want to spend. But in northern cities the rest of those early and mid-April games, particularly the night games, are like pre-season football games. Games the fans don’t really enjoy, but they make season ticket holders buy as part of the package.
As it happens the Mets play a day game on April 25th, and if I can save a day off for it that game will, as it has in the past, be opening day for me. I’m gone to a number of mid-week day games at about that time of April over the years. I say John Maine’s last good game for the Mets in one of them. Last year I went to see an earlier weekend game, another day game, but that was to see the Dear Departed – RA Dickey pitch. And I already knew the weather forecast when I bought the tickets.
Bad for the fans, early and mid-April games in northern cities can’t be good for the players either. Aside from pitchers and perhaps catchers, baseball is not a high-effort athletic contest like football or soccer, where one might work up a sweat at 35 degrees. It features a lot of standing around, aside from a few seconds when muscles have to work absolutely perfectly at 100 percent. What does standing around in 35-degree mist for two hours, and then contorting your body for a second or two with your muscles working at 100 percent, make me think of? Injuries – sprains, strains, tears and pulls.
Aside from an opening series to get the fans exited about the season, most April games should be played in the southern states or in domed stadia. Outdoor games, and night games in particular, in places where the leaves are not yet on the trees should be kept to the bare minimum. Early season games should be played in Atlanta, Miami and Tampa, in Dallas-Ft Worth and Houston, in Arizona, San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland. In Toronto. In Seattle. And, only because it is necessary, occasionally in St. Louis, Baltimore, and Washington.
Now I know the argument against this. Teams draw more fans and make more money when school is out. If the southern teams were forced to host more games in April, they would have fewer games in the prime of the season, and would be worse off in the way that most matters to baseball owners and commissioners. Money. Particularly since in the Sunbelt the school year often starts in mid-August and ends in late May.
But that is late May, not late April. Northern teams would probably want an opening series in early April. If the rest of the games were played in the south until late April, there would still be four weeks – the last week of April and the first three of May – for games to move north before anyone was out of school. The number of home and road games, for teams from the north and south, would be balanced out before Memorial Day.
You have the same problem on the other end of the season, since baseball has begun to follow other sports in having too many playoff games and too long a playoff season. And night playoff games to attract more of the fans who count – TV viewers.
Post-season baseball in the Northeast when the leaves have turned colors? Wonderful. Post-season night games in northern cities long after the leaves have turned brown and fallen off? Not so much. Do I have to bring up Bowie Kuhn in shirtsleeves? They even schedule weekend postseason games at night, because they are afraid of football.
If they are to take place in northern cities at a time when the leaves have turned brown, bring back postseason day games. Those whose teams get that far will find a way to watch the games. In 1969, when I was in third grade, my elementary school shut down twice, with everyone packed into the auditorium to watch the big TV. Once was for the Mets World Series game when Agee made the two catches. Everyone went nuts. The other time had something to do with men going to the moon for the first time (Apollo 9?) That’s right, in New York these were equivalent events.
Other fans whose teams were not playing in the games could watch the equivalent of NFL Red Zone on Fox or the MLB network, on their phone or after work, to catch up with events. The baseball playoffs aren’t the Super Bowl. They attract the hard-core baseball fan, and fans in the cities and states with teams in the games.
Not going to happen? Well then at least be glad that Bud Selig is not in charge of the professional golf schedule. If he was, the U.S. Open would be played in early April, far north of the Mason-Dixon line. The PGA would be played in late October in a similar climate. The Masters and Pebble Beach would be played in Georgia and California in mid-July.
Opening day is not too far away. Step outside for a few minutes in shirtsleeves after 9 pm, and tell me how much fun the first night game in New York will be.