It's (Sorta) Opening Day for Baseball

Staggered start a bad way to kick off the season

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Pomp and circumstance handed out in bite-size portions.

    There's no question that baseball gets held to a higher standard when it comes to the rest of the sports world. 

    Baseball's past problems with performance-enhancing drugs become part of the national conversation every time a Hall of Fame vote rolls around while current players failing tests in the NFL get relegated to small sidebars or ignored altogether.

    Imagine the reaction if baseball had anything close to football's other legal issues -- three members of the Lions' 2011 draft class have been arrested on drug charges since the end of the season -- or its habit of maiming the men who play the game.

    Steroid abuse was a serious problem in baseball, but the response has been outsized compared to the response to serious issues in the most popular game in town.

    On Monday night, the NCAA men's basketball final started at almost 10 p.m., yet there was no audible stink made about how the children of America were being abused by such a late tip-off to the biggest college basketball game of the year. World Series games that start at 8 are subject to ridiculous amounts of moaning from the gallery.

    It's painful, then, to take baseball to task for something that every other sport gets away with every year. But the way they've handled Opening Day this year has been nothing short of a disaster. 

    Capitalizing the words is probably the wrong choice, because that indicates there's an actual day when baseball takes the stage in front of an adoring fan base that's hungered for the game since the end of the World Series. That's normally the case as stadiums bedecked in bunting welcome throngs of fans for day games that showcase the very best of baseball.

    That will be the scene at Citi Field on Thursday, a happy moment in a season that doesn't hold all that much promise of more to come down the road. But Thursday is just one of four days that count as the first day of baseball this year, including two games in Japan last week that they didn't even bother putting on live television as if they were embarrassed by the Mariners and A's.

    Okay, that's actually understandable, but baseball didn't have to have last night's recognized opener between the Cardinals and Marlins sullied by playing a bunch of exhibition games on Wednesday afternoon leading into the game. You can't put fake games and real games side by side and not expect people to take the real one less seriously.

    Opening Day is supposed to be a day devoted to baseball from noon until night, a day when we readjust ourselves to the pace of the game without anything else to interfere. This year, we have too much stagger (plenty of teams, including the Yankees, don't start until Friday) and the Masters will be competing with eyeballs before a holiday weekend strips even more people away from the games.

    Baseball usually gets the stage to itself for a very brief period right now before the NBA and NHL playoffs dominate screens and the NFL Draft behemoth sucks all the rest of the oxygen out of the room. The spotlight doesn't return until the summer, a time when people's interest is always divided, and then the most crucial point of the season has to split time with the start of the football season.

    The league decision makers chose to give up that first spotlight window this season for reasons that are hard to understand. Opening Day should be celebrated, not sneaked onto the scene through the back door.

    That's how it feels this year and that's too bad because the only thing on your mind on Opening Day should be how glorious it is to have baseball back in your life.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.