Pitching a Holiday (Again)

It's time for National Baseball Day.

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Major League Baseball recognizes it has a problem with selling the World Series. Better yet, Fox recognizes it has a problem in reaching a lucrative audience with its World Series broadcast. Thus the move this year to a schedule that has the Series opening on a Wednesday, instead of the Game-1-on-Saturday formula that's been in place for a generation. But the change isn’t enough.  

National Baseball Day would be a step closer.

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A World Series game has not been played in the afternoon since Game 6 of the 1987 series. (That game was played in the Metrodome in Minneapolis, so even then there were no natural shadows on the field.) Games start in “prime time” on the east coast, often not ending till well past midnight — past the bedtimes of millions of kids from Maine to Miami.  

In the name of children coast to coast (and in the interest of our national pastime, clinging to relevance in many pockets of the country), the time has come for National Baseball Day. For a country obsessed with spectator sports, how is it that no federal holiday has been proclaimed to celebrate what so many millions do so often? And with no break between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, late October is ripe for a day with no school, no mail, no screaming alarm clock before the sun has risen.  

Here’s how the holiday would unfold: On the Wednesday that coincides with Game 1 of the World Series, the aforementioned schools and offices would close. Most importantly — pay attention, Fox — the game would start at 3 pm eastern time (noon on the west coast). Every child in the entire country with an interest in the game would be able to watch all nine innings, and before dinner. The television fat cats aiming to maximize ad revenue with prime time slots are missing a critical opportunity here: kids are a demographic, too. They — and more often, their parents — spend money. Maybe not on cars and beer, but certainly on video games, snacks, movies, and fast food. And when National Baseball Day is marketed the way it should be — for the kids! — smart-thinking sponsors will line up to be part of the outreach.  

I’ve interviewed professional baseball players who have little memory of the World Series from their childhood. They happened to develop skills in a sport that they watched considerably less than the NFL or NBA. (The latter has the good sense to televise national matinees throughout the winter and spring, even in the playoffs!) Major League Baseball, though, is compromising much of its future market by ignoring it when the Fall Classic is played. Remember the walk-off homers at Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series, only a few weeks after the horror of 9/11? Not if you’re under the age of 20 today. Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius did their thing after the witching hour in the Big Apple.  

Since a third round of playoffs was added in 1995, the Series has crept closer and closer to November. Now with the adjusted schedule, at least one game of the World Series will be played during the same month as Thanksgiving ... and that’s without any rain-outs (or snow-outs). With colder, wetter weather a part of the mix, wouldn’t daytime baseball make sense, simply for the brand of baseball we all want to see from the sport’s two best teams? (Baseball hats designed with earmuffs are an abomination.)  

Baseball isn’t for everyone, and there will be no obligatory viewing on National Baseball Day. Take your kids to a park or movie. If you don’t have kids, spend some bonus time with someone you love, maybe a special friend you need to catch up with. Or chill out and start some leisure reading you’ve been meaning to do. Just remember it was baseball that got you there.

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