America’s pastime makes changes

Published 12:01am Sunday, April 8, 2012

As long as I’ve been a fan of Major League Baseball, Opening Day is something I’ve looked forward to. While the heat of a pennant race in the late summer and into the fall is an exciting time for baseball fans, there’s something special about the one day where all the games begin. It’s like a runner’s sudden burst at the starting line.

Well, this year, things were a bit different for Major League Baseball. Opening Day was more like Opening Week. If you’re a Seattle Mariners or Oakland Athletics fan, Opening Day was March 28. If you’re a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals or Miami Marlins, Opening Day was Wednesday. If you’re an Atlanta Braves fan, Opening Day was Thursday. If you’re a New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays fan, you had to wait until Friday for Opening Day.

Confused yet? I wouldn’t be surprised. But the new Opening Week is just a handful of changes that have come to America’s pastime.

The league adopted a new collective bargaining agreement during the offseason that brought about a much different look to baseball intricacies.

For one thing, teams will almost never receive any draft pick compensation if another team signs one of their top free agents like they did under the old CBA. The only exception is if an elite player reaches free agency and a team fields a one-year “competitive offer,” equal to the average salary of the top 125 highest-paid players in the game. And if a team trades for an elite player set to hit free agency during the season, that team receives no compensation no matter what.

But the lack of draft pick compensation is just a footnote to the real changes set to hit baseball: expanded playoffs and more interleague play.

MLB added a wildcard team in each league, and the two wildcard teams from the National and American league now have to face off in a one-game series to determine which team advances to the divisional series. This creates an added incentive for teams to win the division, but imagine if you’re in the stacked AL East or NL East, and you come one game short of the division crown. Do you really like the idea of, after 162 games, your season hinging on just one game?

The other big change comes in 2013, when the Houston Astros make the switch from the NL Central to the AL West. This puts an odd number of teams in each league, which means that interleague play is happening from April through September, instead of just the summer months like it usually does.

The problem with interleague play from the get-go was the fact that it sometimes created unbalanced schedules. How would you like to be a Braves fan and watch your team have to face the Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels, while the Philadelphia Phillies only had to face the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners? Now imagine that problem multiplied.

Love them or hate them, the changes are here to stay. If you thought the lack of one single Opening Day felt weird, get ready for a game with some major differences.

Hopefully in the near future, expanded instant replay will be among those changes.

 

Michael Kerekes is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3632 or michael.kerekes@natchezdemocrat.com.