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The Weird Party That Is Baseball’s Opening Day

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I’ve posted this on Opening Day a couple of times over the years, but a lot of people like it and, I think anyway, it bears repeating. Think of it as a declaration of principles regarding the regular season. We enjoyed the hell out of yesterday. We’ll enjoy the hell out of today. But it’ll really be baseball season when baseball season eases into its everyday groove.

Opening Day is baseball’s true time for celebration and jubilation. Sure, they put a big party on for the All-Star Game and the World Series, but the former is inconsequential. The latter is obviously great, but by the time it rolls around a huge number of fans have tuned out because their team is no longer in it. As far as celebrations go, the All-Star game is like Halloween, with everyone dressing up and getting treats, but none of it mattering the next day. The World Series is like some exclusive party that, however great it is, not everyone attends.

Opening Day, however, is real cause for revelry. A multi-day festival to which all are welcome. After a long cold winter, our passion is back. Be it figuratively or literally, we hang red, white and blue bunting from every facade and offer odes to sunshine, cut grass, bats cracking, hot dogs and organ music.

There is a risk, however, to overstating how much Opening Day actually means. A risk of delving too far into cliche and reading too much into things. Of thinking that the party is better-attended than it really is.

I bear no ill-will toward the casual fans who will party with us today. Our coworkers, our family members and all of the other people with whom we’ll share some Opening Day baseball happiness. Our local newspapers, politicians and institutions which will give baseball prime real estate and attention for the next day or so. The more the merrier! But it’s worth remembering that most of them won’t be with us for most of our journey through the regular season. They will be excited, but their excitement won’t last. What they will happily call the National Pastime in the next couple of days won’t really resemble what you and I and our fellow degenerate, everyday baseball fans are truly into.

They don’t truly appreciate, like we appreciate, that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. And that in no event is it a championship bout that justifies the Main Event Atmosphere that will reign supreme on this day. They don’t know, like we do, that the long haul matters and that the team that in the final end wins the war after losing many battles is more important than who wins any one game today. Today they’ll go nuts about the beauty of it all. But come August a lot of them who reveled today will disparage our game as boring and out of touch with today’s fast paced world, even if they do it politely and mildly.

And all of that’s OK. Like I said, it’s a big party. Like any other party, not all of the guests will stay until the end and, frankly, it’s probably a lot better that they don’t. Things will kick off uproariously while everyone is here. There will be F-18 flyovers and gigantic American flags on the outfield grass. There will be A-list first-pitch-throwers and the recitation of that Walt Whitman quote that, however overused and likely apocryphal it is, is pleasant to hear. Let’s all raise our glasses and enjoy the first couple hours of the party together, hardcore fans and dilettantes alike.

But after not too long, when the buzz has set in and the music has settled down into a steady groove, a lot of the partygoers will head for the exits and try to make it home because, hey, they have a babysitter on the clock and they have to get up for work tomorrow.

You and I, however, were smart not to go too crazy in those first couple of hours. We nursed a cocktail then, but after the crowd thins out a bit we’ll pour ourselves another drink and settle in. We’ll know that the real fun of this party will come when there were finally enough comfy chairs around for everyone to have one and we can hear each other talk over the din. Our baseball party will be here for us next week. Next month. And on through May, June, July, August, September and October. We’ll enjoy this party — or maybe “party” is too strong a word; let’s call it a gathering — on random Sunday afternoons and lonely Tuesday nights.

For us, baseball is not a symbol or a spectacle, but a game. A pastime in the literal sense of the word, not the metaphorical one it has become to some. Our lives will continue on, day by day, but night by night we will have our diversion. Our little fix that does not require us to set aside our lives or entire days like some other sports or hobbies do. Something that just hums along unobtrusively, always there for us, month after month. It’s certainly no party. Maybe it’s not even a gathering. For us, it’s just part of life. A part to be enjoyed as a constant rather than celebrated as a special occasion.

But that’s not until next week at the earliest. For now, we will grin and bear the somewhat overwrought spectacle that is Opening Day. We will certainly enjoy it, because baseball-as-overwrought spectacle still beats just about anything else there is in the world.  But we will also know, deep down, that today and tomorrow is a little weird. A pleasant weirdness through which we’ll smile and which we will endure until the heat blows over and we can enjoy baseball as God and Nature intended: casually. Without much fuss. A drink to be savored, not chugged.

Until then, though: play ball.

Major League Baseball orders balls stored in climate controlled rooms for some reason

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Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reports that Major League Baseball will mandate that teams store baseballs in “an air-conditioned and enclosed room[s]” this season. He adds that the league will install climate sensors in each room to measure temperature and humidity during the 2018 season, with such data being used to determine if humidors — like the ones being used in Colorado and Arizona — are necessary for 2019.

This move comes a year after Major League Baseball’s single season, league-wide home run record was shattered, with 6,105 dingers being hit. It also comes after a year in which two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point around the middle of the 2015 season which coincided with home run numbers spiking in the middle of that year, quite suddenly.

Also coming last year: multiple player complaints about the baseball seeming different, with pitchers blaming a rash of blister problems stemming from what they believed to be lower seams on the baseballs currently in use than those in use in previous years. Players likewise complained about unusually smooth and/or juiced baseballs during the World Series, which some believe led to a spike of home runs in the Fall Classic.

To date, Major League Baseball has steadfastly denied that the balls are a problem, first issuing blatantly disingenuous denials,  and later using carefully chosen words to claim nothing was amiss. Specifically, Major League Baseball claimed that the balls were within league specifications but failed to acknowledge that league specifications are wide enough to encompass baseballs which could have radically different flight characteristics while still, technically, being within spec.

Based on Verducci’s report, it seems that MLB is at least past the denial stage and is attempting to understand and address the issues about which many players have complained and which have, without question, impacted offense in the game:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that MLB commissioned a research project after last season to study the composition, storage and handling of the baseballs. He said that investigation is not yet completed. “I’m not at the point to jump that gun right now,” he said about the findings.

The investigation is not yet completed, but the fact that the league is now ordering changes in the manner in which balls are handled before use suggests to me that the league has learned that there is at least something amiss about the composition or manufacture of the baseballs.

Major League Baseball is a lot of things, but quick to impose costs and changes of process on its clubs like this is not one of them. There is likely a good reason for it.