Can base­ball rein­vent it­self amid cri­sis?

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS -

Does Alexan­der Pope have any po­ems about sum­mer? Be­cause I don’t think hope will be “spring­ing” eter­nal this year.

Thurs­day was sup­posed to be base­ball’s Open­ing Day. The A’s were sup­posed to be host­ing the Twins at the Coli­seum. The Giants were sup­posed to be in Los An­ge­les, play­ing the ri­val Dodgers.

It was sup­posed to be marked with a cer­e­mony, like ev­ery other year. Af­ter­noon base­ball, punched up with un­nec­es­sary pomp like pregame line-ups, or­gan mu­sic, and bunting around the grand­stand (but never at the plate — it’s 2020).

It was sup­posed to be a smile­filled bon voy­age to be­gin a long sea­son’s jour­ney, a day of un­bri­dled and — in the case of the Giants this sea­son — un­founded

op­ti­mism.

But for the first time since the strike wiped out the 1994 World Se­ries and the sched­uled Open­ing

Day in 1995, we’re go­ing to have to wait un­til May ... or June ... or maybe even July for the base­ball sea­son to start.

And when base­ball does re­turn, there might not be any need for an in-ball­park cer­e­mony — there might not be fans in the stands.

But may I re­mind you: if we don’t stay in our houses for the next few weeks, there might not be a base­ball sea­son at all. Big­ger is­sues are at play here.

Sports will even­tu­ally come back. At some point, base­ball will have an­other Open­ing Day. But sports were also the first thing to go amid our col­lec­tive Cal­i­for­nia shut down and they’ll prob­a­bly be the last part of our nor­mal life that re­turns.

Or what­ever nor­mal is af­ter all of this.

How and when sports re­turn is any­one’s guess right now, and clearly we, as a col­lec­tive peo­ple, do not do well with am­bi­gu­ity.

As we wait it out,

NBC Sports Bay Area

— like many sports sta­tions around the world — has taken to play­ing old games. This week­end, I found com­fort in watch­ing an old Giants game, even though it was one I had al­ready seen. It wasn’t be­cause Chris He­ston’s 2015 no-hit­ter was in any way mov­ing — it was be­cause of the nor­malcy base­ball pro­vided.

Base­ball has its is­sues. It’s a bor­ing game by our mod­ern stan­dards. Geez, can it be bor­ing.

But base­ball is there for you damn near ev­ery day. It’s the steady sound­track to the spring and sum­mer

and fall. It’s a con­sis­tent com­pan­ion.

It’d be nice to have a com­pan­ion in th­ese fright­en­ing times. Some­thing sta­ble in a mo­ment where ev­ery­thing seems off-kil­ter.

And amid a Kruk and Kuip-back­dropped day­dream, I won­dered how base­ball will be re­ceived when it does fi­nally re­turn.

I haven’t missed the NCAA Tour­na­ment at all. Sorry, but it’s true. The league-worst War­riors cer­tainly helped, but I haven’t felt a void in my per­sonal life with­out the NBA —

I’d be fine with jump­ing to next year. Can the War­riors go to six straight NBA Fi­nals?

But base­ball is yet to miss sched­uled reg­u­larsea­son games and I al­ready miss it.

I wish there wasn’t an ab­sence, but per­haps it’ll help make our feel­ings to­wards the sport fonder. When we re­turn, maybe an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what base­ball rep­re­sents in the sport­ing land­scape — sta­bil­ity — will su­per­sede the day-to-day re­sults and the an­noy­ance of this guy step­ping out the box for the fifth time this at-bat.

Or not. Base­ball, with its al­ready dwin­dling pop­u­lar­ity, might be fur­ther for­got­ten amid what is sure to be an ab­surd

sports land­scape when games re­sume. How can you com­pete with the NBA and NFL train­ing camps in Au­gust?

At the same time, this forced pause gives base­ball a unique op­por­tu­nity to re-in­vent it­self a bit, like the kid who grew eight inches over the sum­mer go­ing into sopho­more year of high school.

Ma­jor League Base­ball’s own­ers want to play a full 162-game sea­son — in front of fans — as soon as pos­si­ble. That’s un­der­stand­able, given that nearly 30 per­cent of Ma­jor League Base­ball’s rev­enue comes from gate re­ceipts. It’s also ex­tremely un­likely, if for no other rea­son than there are not enough playable days in the year. Base­ball is an out­door sport for most, af­ter all.

How short?

Well, how great would 81 games be?

That’d be a de­mo­li­tion derby-style sea­son. You wouldn’t be able to look away.

If one of base­ball’s is­sues is that the reg­u­larsea­son games don’t feel im­por­tant, well, let’s make them all twice as im­por­tant.

The struc­ture of the sched­ule could change, too. Foot­ball is win­ning the great Amer­i­can sports race in part be­cause it claims days. Thurs­day,

Sun­day, Mon­day are for the NFL. Satur­day? That’s for col­lege foot­ball — Amer­ica’s sec­ond fa­vorite sport.

Of course, base­ball would need to play more than once a week — four games is a min­i­mum. But, con­ser­va­tively, if we were go­ing to start the Ma­jor League sea­son on July 4 and play un­til Hal­loween (17 weeks), you could play 81 games by adopt­ing a col­lege base­ball-style sched­ule.

Week­end se­ries would feel huge. It’s said in base­ball that mo­men­tum is your next start­ing pitcher. Well, how about build­ing a sched­ule around that ax­iom. Give me Fri­day Night Aces, with Satur­day and Sun­day fea­tur­ing the next best starters. How fun would that be?

Mid-week games would be for lesser pitch­ers, of course — guys Nos. 4 and 5 in the ro­ta­tion. Don’t waste valu­able week­end crowds on those guys. We could even have a onegame, mid-week se­ries.

But gone would be the monotony of the base­ball sea­son. In its place would be events.

Mike Ax­isa of CBS Sports went as far as to sug­gest that a short­ened sea­son should start with an All-Star Game.

Now that is a great idea. But as we sit, wait­ing, it’s all hope. Friv­o­lous day­dreams about friv­o­lous games.

And even if it was only for one sea­son — let’s be hon­est, it prob­a­bly would be — the lessons of base­ball em­brac­ing its in­her­ent chaos, in­stead of try­ing to smooth it out over the course of a long sea­son, would be out­stand­ing. This sched­ule would pro­vide a new kind of con­sis­tency for base­ball. It’s too great a game to be rel­e­gated to an af­ter­thought.

That said, if you could prom­ise me 162 games start­ing Thurs­day, I’d take it in a heart­beat.

Di­eter Kurtenbach

ERIC RIS­BERG — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, FILE

The Giants, left, and Mariners, right, stand along the base lines dur­ing the Na­tional An­them be­fore the start of an Open­ing Day game on April 3, 2018, in San Fran­cisco.

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