Opening Day has a unique poignancy, at least for those who celebrate it, because it combines optimism for better times with nostalgia for simpler times. It is reassuring to know that this still occurs annually, despite the changing world around it and a long, cold winter that made sunny baseball days seem far away. It is still powerful that it occurs annually in this manner, providing even the most hopeless baseball cities with a day of hope.
But this Opening Day carries a different kind of symbolic weight because there are no major concerns about a coronavirus pandemic or a lockout-induced off-field frenzy. It could signal the beginning of a rejuvenated era if everything goes according to plan.
MLB’s updated schedule and new rules will go into effect on Thursday for the start of the regular season. Baseball will be played against a clock, specifically a pitch clock, for the first time in the sport’s history. This clock drastically reduced the length of spring training games and made the pace of play more appealing.
A new broadcast infrastructure is likely on the way, and it could accelerate MLB’s transition to streaming, bringing about the necessary change to end local market blackouts for fans.
The World Baseball Classic, the MLB’s attempt to attract fans from around the world, finally succeeded: Just ask the players who played well for their countries for two weeks in March and then returned to spring training camps now aware that the stoic, even-keeled approach that history suggests is necessary to win 162 regular season games may not be the best approach to this sport.
However, the promise of change necessitates fresh examinations of past issues, and athletes at every level of the sport are doing so as well. Forbes valuations released last week suggested that some of the sport’s most persistent losing teams, including the Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, and others, are earning more money than teams that invest in their on-field product. Across the major leagues, owners have expressed dissatisfaction with how the New York Mets’ Steve Cohen and the San Diego Padres’ Peter Seidler spend money, making other owners appear less invested by spending more to win more.
In the meantime, just a year after players and owners signed a collective bargaining agreement, ambiguity regarding the regional sports network model’s long-term viability, as well as the certainty that franchise values and major league revenue will continue to rise, are fueling new public arguments between them. There may be more reasons than ever to believe that fresh approaches to previously existing issues could also emerge at a time when MLB appears to be more open to adapting to shifting circumstances.
However, this may just be the hopes of Opening Day talking. All of those changes will be on display and under scrutiny, for better or worse, as soon as the regular baseball season begins in 2023.
The absolute best matchups of Thursday evening, for instance, wouldn’t have occurred under the old timetable. At Yankee Stadium, Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees will take on Logan Webb and the San Francisco Giants. In Arlington, the newly loaded Philadelphia Phillies will play the Texas Rangers of Jacob deGrom.
Star-studded interleague matchups like those would be more uncommon under the old schedule, which included 19 games against every division foe and interleague series with one division’s worth of teams each year. This year, MLB debuted what it is calling a “more balanced” schedule, with 13 games between division rivals and at least one game between each team.
In addition, the new rules that limit the amount of time between pitches, prohibit exaggerated shifts, and limit the number of pickoff throws will be in place for games that matter after years of testing in the minors and tinkering in the majors. In response to player feedback, MLB issued a memo to teams last week that clarified a few aspects of those new rules. However, on the field, the regular season is not the time for experimentation.
More experiments will begin off the field. For instance, Seidler’s grand plan for the small-market Padres—the “if you build it, they will come and they will spend” model—will be shown to the baseball world once more. In this plan, Seidler has almost committed to losing money this season in order to recoup it with a victory in October. Could Cohen at any point truly break baseball with his spending, as certain proprietors contend — or, similar to last prepare, will his spending bring about a decent group however not ensure the Mets quite a bit of anything in October?
Maybe more critically for the eventual fate of baseball, MLB very likely will be compelled to explore different avenues regarding how fans can watch games. Diamond Sports Group filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. The company operates Bally Sports networks and owns full broadcasting rights to 14 MLB teams. Magistrate Ransack Manfred has said that assuming Precious stone misses an installment to any of those 14 groups, MLB would contend that its agreement is void and attempt to take the privileges back. Fully expecting such a situation, MLB employed extra staff to help in nearby business sectors, on the off chance that it needs to assume control over communicates from Bally Games without prior warning.
Manfred has stated that, in the event that that occurs, he hopes MLB will be able to provide fans with direct streaming of those games, avoiding the in-market blackouts imposed by intricate cable agreements like Diamond Sports’ with distributors in those 14 markets.
Bally Sports was expected to broadcast all of the games it owns rights to on Opening Day as of 24 hours before the first pitch of the regular season. According to a person who is familiar with the payment calendar, Diamond owed the Padres a payment by Wednesday night at midnight. They made that installment, intending that for the present, the Padres will keep on being communicated by Bally Games.
In any case, the TV scene could change — and quickly — for almost 50% of ball clubs’. If Diamond doesn’t get paid, some of them might see a decrease in expected revenue from television. Manfred acknowledged that in the event that that occurs, those teams may not recover all of the short-term revenue they lost. However, it appears that MLB’s simplified streaming service could provide simpler revenue streams in the future.
Thursday marks the beginning of a new chapter in MLB’s unique and ever-evolving future. A season that provides evidence that the sport is prepared and capable of adapting to new circumstances may follow, marking a step in the right general direction. On the other hand, perhaps excessive optimism is simply an unavoidable consequence of Opening Day each year.