Column: MLB's 'Opening Day' falls short of the fence

Major League Baseball’s “Opening Day,” formerly one of the most fantastic athletic spectacles in the universe, has been reduced to a pile of B.S.

Those are, of course, the initials of baseball’s less-than-beloved commissioner, Sir Bud Selig (king of screwing up everyone’s lives since before this author was born). Selig thought it would be a grand idea to mutilate the sport’s most precious event outside of the World Series, and it’s just another major step in the wrong direction.

The league billed this Wednesday’s game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the new-look Miami Marlins as “Opening Night” and Thursday as “Opening Day.”

Fair enough, right? Not so fast.

Thirteen teams don’t even start their seasons until this afternoon. What about them? Then, there’s the fact the league season technically started last Wednesday at 7 a.m. Central Standard Time 6,000 miles away in Tokyo.

That’s four different dates claiming to open the MLB season, an ugly attempt at a grandiose entrance to 2012.

Anyone will tell you this system is not good for the brand. On top of being confusing, it takes away the special status of a team’s first game. What used to be a near-national holiday is now genuinely ho-hum.

Twenty years ago, “Opening Day” was still split into two days of games, but it was a uniform entity. No over-hyped matchups on ESPN the night before. No whiz-bangs or flashing lights. Just baseball.

What’s transpired since then is a slow crawl into identity crisis.

Baseball is no longer America’s pastime. The sport no longer rakes in the biggest television deals or the brightest stars in the professional sports stratosphere. But it’s always had one thing going for it: tradition.

The major leagues have always been a splash of nostalgia, a cornucopia of rituals and old-time jargon that has held its own without the bells and whistles employed by the NBA and NFL. If diehard football and basketball fans are the “in-crowd,” entertained by the flash of a cheerleader’s thigh or the incessant chanting from the P.A. announcer, then baseball lovers are the hipsters of the sports world.

And the hipsters have to be pretty pissed off.

Selig is trying to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak, but he’s playing the game incorrectly. The NFL is king, and it will be until the fallout from the concussion era turns it into a watered-down shell of its former self. The NBA has been rising in popularity since a certain someone’s talent-taking to South Beach. College football and college basketball are both sexier entities than pro baseball right now.

MLB will never win the attractiveness battle. It is built on old-school American values: patience, precision and grace. We love it for its unique charm. Baseball should never be the faux bombshell at the party trying to impress everyone in sight. It’s the quiet, classy girl who is most attractive when she is being herself.

No one in charge of the league seems to care about the most exciting part of the season, when all 30 teams are coming off spring training with the belief that they have a shot at playing in October. The sport is beautiful when it stays true to its roots and flops when it tries to be the “cool” guy.

It’s unfortunate, but the pageantry of “Opening Day” has been taken to the woodshed and beaten like a late-1990s steroid test.

The clock is ticking for tradition in our country’s most traditional sport, and it’s a shame.

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