Taking the Field in Daylight, Not Dreams

The crack of the bat. The smell of freshly cut grass. The warmth of the sun set against a blue sky. These are just some of the elements that make baseball one of the greatest sporting events to attend. Baseball is a sport designed to be played outdoors. While domed stadiums make a certain amount of sense in the hot Arizona desert or for cold Milwaukee springs, the Texas Rangers play in the heat while the Minnesota Twins play, occasionally, in the snow. As children, we grow up playing baseball until the sun goes down. Whether we are playing or watching, baseball is a game tailor-made for lazy Saturday afternoons. While Saturday falls once a week, Major League Baseball gets the chance to showcase baseball on three days during the “summer.”

Three days of each baseball season are holidays for many Americans: Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. These are holidays without the traditional family commitments. Rather they are days of relaxation designed around barbecues, fireworks, going to the beach, or just lounging around the backyard with a radio.

The first rule of these days: every team should play. Now that the leagues have been evened and interleague play is a season-long event, there should be sixteen games on each of the three holidays. MLB is close: all thirty teams will be in action on Memorial Day but two will sit out on each of the next two holidays. The second rule: play games during the day.

Over the past five seasons, including the balance of 2013, Labor Day has been the most consistent holiday for day baseball (defined for the purposes of this article as games starting before the end of the 4pm hour on the East Coast), with Memorial Day and the Fourth of July demonstrating a lack of emphasis on this aspect of scheduling. This is strange when considering Bud Selig’s work during his tenure as Commissioner. Whether you agree or disagree with his moves, Selig has spent just over two decades attempting to improve the fan experience. Interleague play, the World Baseball Classic, Home Run Derby captains, and making the All-Star Game “count” are all measures aimed squarely at the fans.

Although the WBC is aimed at cultivating baseball on a global scale, the finals are still played in the United States, and the atmosphere, set just before March Madness, is that of a playoff tournament. The WBC is trying to be the kind of baseball seen in the postseason: games are happening all the time and teams are being eliminated in epic matchups (or so they hope).

Part of the magic during the WBC, NCAA tournament, and the MLB postseason lies in the quantity of games being played. Only during Opening Day, and to a lesser extent, the rest of that week, does baseball feature a large number of day games allowing workers, students, and fans of all ages the opportunity to follow along with games staggered throughout the day starting at noon and ending past midnight on the East Coast.

People like to be immersed in their sports. As baseball fans this is hard to keep in mind at times because the season is so long. However, most games on any particular day start between 7pm and 10pm Eastern time. The chaos is confined. This is not an indictment of prime time baseball. Both for economics and availability this schedule makes sense during the week – but on the weekend, and even moreso, holidays, the chaos and excitement should be overflowing.

This is a plan executed every Sunday by the NFL. A few games start every couple hours leading up to a primetime game on Sunday night and then the showcase that is Monday Night Football. This strategy brings in football fans and fantasy players, encourages cable packages to ensure access to every game, and if that isn’t enough, NFL RedZone is a non-stop highlight reel. And that is every Sunday from September to January.

MLB could start with three days. Three days where fans are ready to relax and have fun, following an endless stream of baseball.

Cross-posted at The Sports Post