America’s pastime needs to adapt

With April just about over, it finally feels like spring in the Upper Peninsula.

Even though the season officially began 11 days before March was over, the U.P., as well as most of the states above the Mason-Dixon Line, has been hammered with cold weather and absurd amounts of snow.

In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, former Detroit Tigers and current Minnesota Twins pitcher Fernando Rodney entered a game in the late innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As Rodney was attempting to close out the win for Minnesota, snow started to litter the field. Between pitches, Rodney had to wipe the snowflakes from his face as hitters had to wipe their fingers on their jerseys as the bat was slipping out of their hands with each swing.

The Toronto Blue Jays had to postpone a game despite having a working retractable roof. This was due to ice chunks falling off the CN tower, the largest freestanding structure in North America, and landing on the stadium roof. These chunks created a hole that let snow fall on the turf.

Meanwhile, the Jays’ opponent, the Kansas City Royals, had their own incident in the city as a large chunk of ice came off one of the team’s buses, hitting another team bus windshield and the driver. Luckily, a Royals pitcher grabbed the wheel before the bus veered out of control.

How ridiculous is all this? It’s due to Major League Baseball deciding to open up its season on March 29 when most of the country was digging itself out of their snowdrifts.

The season began when the U.P. had temperatures in the 40s and just one day later, it plummeted into the 20s. MLB has had to deal with multiple postponements so far and for the first time in awhile, a question that has been posed before is now being seriously considered by various people.

Is it time to shorten the baseball season? It’s not just sportswriters who have been debating this, as players have done the same, most notably Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

In a radio interview and later reported on ESPN.com, Rizzo said “I think we play too much baseball. Yes, guys are going to take pay cuts. But are we playing this game for the money or do we love this game? I know it’s both, but in the long run, it will make everything better.”

Yes, you read that correctly. A professional athlete was willing to take a pay cut in order to shorten the season. It’s refreshing to see that, considering how much money rules sports, both at he professional and amateur levels.

After saying how much playing baseball in the cold sucks, which it does, Rizzo also offered an interesting solution to the problem that could also prevent ballplayers from having to take a pay cut.

“In a perfect world, we’d start the season later and play a few scheduled doubleheaders going into an off day,” Rizzo was quoted as saying. “As a fan, you’re going to a baseball game in April, and it’s raining, snowing and freezing rain. Is that really much fun? That’s my question.”

That’s been my question for awhile as well with the answer — it’s not much fun.

I love baseball but driving to Detroit to potentially sit in the snow for three hours watching the Tigers struggle to get on base isn’t exactly enticing. Rizzo’s idea definitely makes sense. Starting the season in March was stupid and if MLB was smart, it won’t do that again.

However, to avoid that problem in the future, they could delay the start of the season to April 15 — Tax Day, how appropriate — or maybe April 20. By all logic, the snow will have melted by then and the temperature will have risen to an acceptable level for sitting outside.

Also, playing doubleheaders on off days in the summer is a great idea. You avoid the cold and frequent game cancellations and fans get to see two games in one day.

When it’s summertime, it’s hard to top a relaxing day at the ballpark. Growing up in Minneapolis, I didn’t know what that felt like until the Metrodome was torn down and Target Field was finally built.

Now, I appreciate it and it makes me want to some day catch a game at Comerica Park. Not only that but riding a Tiger carousel in the summer is far more appealing than sitting on one covered in slush.

The doubleheader concept also fixes the concern that if the season starts later, then it will last longer. If you schedule two games on off days, the season can end at the original time. If doubleheaders aren’t a good option, the league could go the extreme route and shorten the season altogether.

Instead of 162 games, maybe cut it back to 154, like in the 1950s. Granted, there were many fewer teams back then, but do you really need to play the teams in opposite leagues? I understand the rivalry series in Chicago and New York, but would Tigers fans really miss playing Pittsburgh? I doubt it.

Shortening the season is the least likely option to happen because, again, money has a stranglehold over sports. However, if MLB is willing to change the schedule just a bit, it could make its players and fans happier and it might even gain interest, which has been dwindling steadily for years.

It finally feels like baseball weather right now. Maybe next year, we’ll have that feeling on Opening Day, instead of having to brush snow off our parkas in the bleachers.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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