Meaningless matchups

Though many baseball fans are passionate year-round, you won’t miss out if you don’t jump in the game until later on in the season
Saturday, April 7, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:33 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I know the source of that chill that has overcome mid-Missouri this week.

Don’t point to some sort of arctic low-pressure Gulf Stream system mass as the source of the frigidity. Point to the sports gods. They’re telling us it’s too early for baseball season to start.

As any good sports fan knows, the agonizingly brutal 162-game baseball season has reset for another year.

But I could not care less. At least not yet.

That chill in the air is a perfect excuse to get back inside to watch basketball or hockey.

The nation’s only indoor-exclusive major sports are each reaching the finish line. And the race is exciting.

The Red Wings and Sabres are fluffing their feathers atop the NHL, and the Western Conference playoffs in the NBA are going to feature battles of true juggernauts.

But for some reason, everyone I meet is going crazy about a sport whose champion won’t be decided for another 200 days or so.

Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up watching the winning-challenged Texas Rangers instead of the typically solid Cardinals, but I can’t get keyed up about baseball while two other perfectly exciting sports are still around.

There’s no better time in sports than the postseason, but pesky baseball tries to steal that attention like a barnacle on a whale, scheduling its regular season in such a way that it takes fans away from meaningful games.

I’m not suggesting a shortened season or later start date. I’m just saying that I am not willing to divide my attention by three. I can’t be expected to watch a regular-season baseball game on the same day as a hockey or basketball playoff game, can I?

Besides, the baseball season is supposed to be a marathon. So who cares about the leader after the first few miles of a 26.2-mile race? I certainly don’t.

The Yankees and Mets each had 97 wins last season to lead the Majors. But the pessimist will tell you that means they lost 65 games. Most NBA teams will never win 65 in a season.

The nature of baseball means that each individual game is devalued. In football, every game matters, and players and fans will toil over the completion percentage of the third-string quarterback.

In baseball, there’s no time to care about one win or loss, since each game is about 0.6 percent of the entire season. Even the players themselves don’t celebrate a win or lament over a loss like football players do each week. They’ll tell you in postgame interviews that it’s just one game. Sure, they want to win 162, but they know they’ll be lucky to win 82.

It’s the inconsequential nature of these early games that makes me look away.

Former Cardinals draft pick Dmitri Young was with the Tigers in 2005 when he hit three home runs in the first game of the season. ESPN joked that he was on pace for 486 home runs. In reality, Young knocked just 21 out of the park once 2005 was over.

This year, the Royals opened with a 7-1 “upset” win against the Red Sox and Curt Schilling.

It’s hard to say with a straight face that a baseball win is ever an upset. We don’t really learn anything from one game. But if the Texans beat the Colts this winter like they did last year, that’s an upset.

A single game is just a small blip on the baseball radar. Before June, I don’t even turn the radar on.

Sure, a win in April is mathematically as worthy as a win in September, but April wins certainly don’t mean as much to me. That’s because I’m not watching baseball until the NBA champion is crowned in June.

My experience tells me I will be able to join the action in stride without missing a beat. I’ll be tardy, but I will still get just as much enjoyment, context and meaning out of the season as those who have the dedication to make it through the entire 162 games.

Don’t worry, I don’t hate baseball. It’s just that, once the chill wears off, I’ll be ready to enjoy a ballpark hot dog and settle in for the good part of the marathon.

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