March 25, 2008

2008 Baseball Season Throws Out First Pitch

Opening Day, er, Opening Night, of the 2008 Major League Baseball season gets underway at 3 a.m. PST; 6 a.m. EST this morning, and it's about time. The 2007-2008 off-season seemed to go on forever, especially being forced to watch the Atlanta Braves try to figure out how to replace Andruw Jones in center field.

Quick recap: they couldn't.

Why the ridiculous time for the season's first pitch? It seems Major League Baseball's resident genius leader, Commissioner Bud Selig, decided it's important to plant baseball's seeds of discovery in Japan, specifically Tokyo, to help develop international interest in the game.

Every year, MLB is becoming more and more of an international game, no doubt, with athletes from all over the world coming to the U.S to compete against the best ballplayers in the world. That makes Major League Baseball's championship match, The World Series, finally deserving of its moniker, if you look past the fact that the league has teams located in just two countries - the U.S. and Canada.

There is just one problem with Selig's idea to gain exposure for baseball by sending the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics to Tokyo to play two regular-season games to open the 2008 regular season ... baseball is already huge in Japan, and has been for years.

The Japanese operate their own major league called Nippon Professional Baseball (Puro Yakyū, or プロ野球 if you speak Japanese). It's only been around since, oh, I don't know, let's see, that would be ... 1950! (Professional baseball in Japan actually can be traced back to 1920, with the modern NPB officially forming 30 years later.)

Come on, Bud. Your intentions are great, but once again you've managed to make a boneheaded decision for MLB operations, making yourself look like a Keystone Kop-type of bumbling idiot and giving non-baseball-loving American sports fans more ammunition to rail against our national past-time (just like your decision to end the 2002 All-Star Game at Miller Park in Milwaukee after 11 innings by declaring it a tie, when both teams ran out of relief pitchers).

I wonder how this "false start" of sorts to the 2008 MLB season is going to affect the Red Sox and A's over the long haul? Granted, they are only playing two games in Tokyo (before returning to the states to play spring training exhibition games for another week and then playing their third game of the series in Oakland), but these games count.

What if the Red Sox and Yankees are embroiled in another bitter Eastern Division brawl for first place this September? If the Red Sox lose both games in Japan and end up two games behind the Yankees in the standings at the end of the regular season, the Tokyo Opening Day games will be to blame.

On a side note ...

Major League Baseball's Opening Day is a holiday for me, traditionally. When I had an employer, I either called in sick to work or scheduled a paid (personal) day off weeks in advance so I could stay home and watch games on TV all day. (I could squeeze in three full games, starting about 1 p.m. EST and ending close to midnight, when I had a TV subscription that offered the Major League Baseball Extra Innings package. Here in Oregon, Bend Broadband doesn't offer it, meaning I may be changing to DirecTV soon, but I digress ...)

When I was married, my ex-wife and I both skipped out on work, spending all day drinking beer and barbecuing - pork shoulder, 12-hours, slow roasting North Carolina-style. When I was self-employed, I simply let voice mail field all my telephone calls and e-mail pick up correspondence, letting clients and/or editors know in advance that I was taking the day off "to deal with personal matters."

Thanks to Mr. Selig, though, my annual holiday will not take place on the "official" Opening Day. No doubt, I will be up at 3 a.m. to witness the first pitch from Tokyo (I'm betting it's fouled off) because I am that much of a baseball junkie. And I am excited that the Atlanta Braves will be in the first televised game on U.S. soil this Sunday night when they play the Washington Nationals in the new ballpark the Nats built in D.C.

But the first day every team plays their opener isn't until Monday, March 31. The good new is I still get to play hooky. The bad news is March 31 won't really be Opening Day.

As for the game being played a little less than an hour from this posting, it'll be cool to see Boston starting pitcher Dice-K (Diasuke Matsuzaka) play in his home country in front of the Japanese faithful. That guy is a rock star over there, and I hear the Japanese get rowdy at ball games, much like Europeans do at football (soccer) matches.

And now for some stats ... What would a baseball discussion be without 'em?

In Japan, Matsuzaka pitched for the Seibu Lions, debuting in 1999 in a win over the Nippon Ham Fighters (dig that team name). Thanks to the hype surrounding Dice-K following his kick-ass performance in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, the Red Sox set some kind of new record for greed by bidding $51.1 million just for the right to talk to him about playing in Boston. (Way to flash your wallet in Steinbrenner's face, Theo.)

Boston went on to sign Dice-K to a $52 million, six-year deal, and he had a pretty good "rookie" season in 2007, going 15-12 with 201 strikeouts while posting a so-so 4.40 earned run average. The Wagger has a good feeling Dice-K is going to break out this year, leaving his rookie MLB performance in the dust.

Anyway, here's to a fabulous, drama-filled 2008 Major League Baseball season ... and here's praying the Atlanta Braves can get past the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets to make it back to the World Series this year.

How about winning the Fall Classic this year boys?

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