It’s likely that the first words of the 2018 baseball season on Thursday will be “P-P-P-P-P-P-P-P-PLAY BALL!” coming through the chattering teeth of the home plate umpire.
That’s because the Tigers will be hosting the Pirates on opening day in Detroit while the calendar reads “March 29th.”
What genius decided to open the baseball season in Michigan in March? Did he not have access to the Farmers’ Almanac or a decent weather app?
On Thursday about the time Jordan Zimmermann is tossing his first pitch of the season, it’s forecast to be about 45 degrees and wet in the Motor City. Any good Michigander can tell you that rain, sleet, or snow can pop up anytime in the Great Lakes State this time of year.
But we shouldn’t be surprised that Major League Baseball has scheduled several northern teams to begin the season at home in Winter-like conditions. They simply don’t care if the fans have to wear long johns, two pair of corduroys, and a stocking cap to keep from getting frostbite. They figure the fans will come no matter what.
Teams get millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of luxury suites and corporate sponsorships. There’s millions (or even billions) more from local television contracts. Then there’s the money they get from the sale of merchandise. Ticket prices inch higher every year but MLB assumes fans will pay the price. It’s the only ballgame in town.
It’s ridiculous to open the season on a Thursday afternoon in March in Detroit. Even if it’s 50 or 55 degrees, which is warm for Motown at that time of the year, it’ll be brisk and uncomfortable to watch a nearly four-hour game sitting passively in the stands. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are 30 major league teams, and five of them are in California. There’s one team in Arizona and two in Florida. Two more baseball teams play in Texas, and three northern teams have domes they can play under. Add in Atlanta and you have 14 teams in warm weather climates and/or who have indoor stadiums. That means 28 teams could open the season in comfortable weather.
Neither Detroit nor Pittsburgh needs to be opening their season at home in the month of March (or early April for that matter). But there’s more to this than simple ignorance by MLB.
The powers-that-be, the money people in the sport are not watching the games in the open air. They’re tucked comfortably inside heated suites sipping from drinks brought to them by wait staff, watching replays on big screen TVs, and resting their butts on padded reclining chairs. When’s the last time you saw a team owner sitting in a seat behind the dugout like John Fetzer and Walter Briggs and Frank Navin did during their years of stewardship of the Tigers? When’s the last time the president of the team was rubbing elbows with regular fans down in the ballpark? Where will Al Avila be sitting on Thursday? Will he even be wearing a jacket?
You can be forgiven if opening day caught you off guard this year. Winter has never really ended in Michigan, the NCAA Tournament is still going on, and it doesn’t seem conceivable that spring is here and that “The Summer Game” should be starting already. But Thursday we’ll be watching the Tigers start another season, even if our knees can’t stop shaking.