Wednesday, March 26, 2008

3-26-08: Japan Opening Series

Waking up at 6:00AM to watch Opening Day baseball is an interesting experience. I wouldn’t really know, because I didn’t really “wake up” until about 7:00AM yesterday. I flipped on ESPN2 and saw some good baseball, which was nice to see. My lovely girlfriend, who is stationed in Japan, went to today’s game. Hopefully she grabbed me a cool souvenir (if they didn’t already sell out).

Part of me likes the idea, part of me doesn’t. I don’t really subscribe to the idea that it’s completely wrong to have opening day in a foreign country, since baseball is “America’s favorite pastime.” That saying came about decades ago, when foreign players were a significant minority. Even minority players were a minority. A team might have had a few Hispanic players on it, but not many. The first Japanese player, Masanori Murakami, didn’t play in the Major Leagues until 1964.

Nowadays you have teams with players from all over the world. The Red Sox are not the most diverse team out there (historically they are slow to integrate), but they have players from several countries. The Yankees’ pitching staff at one point had players from five countries (the U.S., Cuba, Panama, Dominican Republic, and Taiwan). That’s just off the top of my head. I think they also had a Canadian pitcher.

The point is: how American is baseball? It can still be America’s favorite pastime, but does that mean it is immune to globalization? Just look at the potential of the Japanese market. When I was over there in December, I saw it being played several times by kids. When I was in Yokohama I caught a few minutes of a high school team’s practice (maybe it was Matsuzaka’s high school…). I’m not even going to describe the decades of prominence in Latin America. The Red Sox’ two best hitters are from the Dominican Republic, and they’ve had many star pitchers from there as well.

But the teams are (save one) based in the United States. Should an American team play its first game abroad? Wouldn’t it be better to play the game later on, or maybe earlier on during the middle of Spring Training?

There are two parts of this that need to be weighed, and I think MLB made the right choice. First, you don’t want to waste every one’s time by going all the way to Japan just to play exhibition games. Teams won’t take the games seriously, and Japan will not be exposed to the real product. You don’t want to piss off both parties involved. On the other hand, how fair is it to the teams if they get worn out early because of these games on the other side of the world? You don’t want to cost the American fans, who pay top dollar to get into Fenway, by wearing their team out and causing them to perform poorly.

I think having the games this week, then more exhibition games before the real opening day in April, is the right move. You want the teams to take the games seriously, but you don’t want them to get worn out. It’s the only way to balance things out. Besides, many fans pay more attention to the home opener, which both teams will still have. The only fans that really care are so hardcore that they’ll play along anyway. Who would pass up the chance to watch the Sox live over breakfast? Come on. It’s pretty cool.

No comments: