The Shame of Another Ruined Opening Day

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By this point, it is now known that the Major League Baseball season will not open on March 31st as was originally scheduled as the MLB lockout drags into its fourth month.

After the disaster that was the negotiations in returning to play in 2020, many believed that those acrimonious talks were merely a dress rehearsal towards an all-out labor war following the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the MLB players and owners. Sure enough, as the calendar flips to March, a lockout that started on December 1 is now the second-longest work stoppage in MLB history, with the 1994-95 strike taking the cake.

Now, after three months largely bereft of any sort of meaningful activity, spring training games that were supposed to start last weekend are still indefinitely on hold and regular season games will now be lopped off incrementally as a work stoppage where both sides are still far apart drags on.

Regardless of when or how the lockout is resolved, one thing has already been decided: we as baseball fans are denied another Opening Day that truly feels like one

A Fresh Start

To many (including your truly), Opening Day signals a few different things: the beginning of spring, a launching-off point for hope, and mostly, a fresh start with a blank slate. As a fan, Opening Day has always hit different for baseball than any other sport.

Growing up in Kansas City, the first Opening Day I remember was in 2004, when Carlos Beltran capped off a six-run ninth inning with a walk-off two-run home run. Coming off an 83-79 season, many thought this was the jumping off point to potentially the Royals’ first playoff berth in 19 years. Instead it was merely the highlight of a franchise-worst 104-loss season that included Beltran being traded away.

Quickly thereafter, Opening Days became a sort of cautious optimism that hey, maybe this year we’ll finish .500. For several consecutive seasons, I attended the Royals home opener. If anything, it was a chance to see a rare sight in those days: a sold-out Kauffman Stadium cheering for the beginning of a breakout year, oblivious to the fact that having Scott Elarton and Luke Hochevar as Opening Day starters immediately should’ve told you that there was no chance.

Nonetheless, some of my fondest Royals memories were attending Opening Days as a teenager. I got to get out of school to tailgate in the parking lot with my dad, then go inside and see things like Alex Gordon‘s MLB debut and Alex Rodriguez striking out four times against Brian Bannister.

No matter what fans reasonably could expect, they could expect this: Opening Day was a day in which fans in the area could look forward to after the Chiefs or their respective college basketball teams disappointed them over the winter.

An Opening Day That Doesn’t Feel Like It

The last two MLB seasons of course were clouded and heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, 2020’s abbreviated slate kicked off in late July and the entire season was contested in empty stadiums. While many fans were happy to have some baseball back, obviously it wasn’t the same to see games contested in front of no one besides faces on cardboard. At a time when many of us were still at home the vast majority of the time, it almost didn’t quite seem real.

In 2021, things of course improved, but even then, every team except the Texas Rangers opened the season with limited capacity. As a result, Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium was witnessed by a crowd of 9,155—not even enough to sell out most Triple-A stadiums. Again, it was great to have baseball back, especially in April again, but it didn’t really feel quite like Opening Day.

Nearly a year later, we’re here. At the end of the Super Bowl each year, I usually tweet something to the effect of “X number of days until Opening Day!” This year there was no tweet. Just uncertainty.

We know this: there will probably be Major League Baseball in 2022 at some point. Whenever the season opens, Opening Day will probably look a lot like it did in 1995, when the season opened on April 25—three weeks behind schedule. There will be noticeable amounts of empty seats. Fans will boo and will be upset.

A day that’s supposed to be coming on March 31 will instead come later. Celebration of a new season will be overshadowed for many by apathy and anger. Another Opening Day will feel like less than that. It’s a shame.

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