Call me a cranky coot, but I can remember when Major League Baseball's season opener happened at the conclusion of the exhibition schedule, rather than in the middle of it.
But that was so 20th century. Baseball does things a little differently now.
For the third time in nine years, the season opener will be played in Japan -- almost a full week before the real games start here. And the opener will feature the Bay Area's very own Oakland A's.
They'll face the Boston Red Sox, who apparently aren't receiving enough national attention these days.
So, if you are an A's fan, here is what you must do to prepare for the big event:
1. Stay out of your vehicle. Unlike the trip to McAfee Coliseum, you won't be able to drive or ride to the opener (unless you have one of those James Bond underwater cars). And with the price of gas these days, the refueling stop in Honolulu would be prohibitively expensive.
2. Load up on caffeine. Either that, or go to sleep at 6 p.m. Monday and set your alarm for the ESPN2 telecast. Because the first official pitch of 2008 will be thrown at ... wait for it ... 3:05 a.m. Tuesday. In other words, if the 2008 season opener were an airplane that wanted to land at Mineta San Jose International Airport, the curfew would force the game to be canceled. Or land in Oakland instead.
3. Don't be confused by those games between the A's and Giants next weekend at AT&T Park and the Coliseum. Those aren't real games, even though they'll be played following the A's two real games in Japan, and before the A's return to more real games, which will happen after the three non-real games. Got that?
4. Brace yourself for the worst. There is the distinct possibility the A's could have an 0-2 record before they take the field for their domestic home opener a week from Tuesday. Hey, A's, you're in last place by two games before the season has begun for 28 teams! Play ball!
5. Revisit your college philosophy textbook and ponder this question: If third baseman Eric Chavez is on the disabled list for a game no one sees because it's being played at 3 a.m., does the disabled list exist? Discuss among yourselves.
My cranky attitude here has nothing to do with jingoism. I have the utmost respect for Japanese baseball and Japanese baseball fans. Most know the game better than many of the people who show up at American ballparks just for the hot dogs and beer.
But these Tokyo adventures, which also occurred in 2000 and 2004, were basically dreamed up to help market Major League Baseball in Asia. The idea has been to sell more merchandise and sponsorships there, and it must be a lot of merchandise and sponsorships if each player is receiving a $40,000 appearance fee/jet-lag bonus to participate.
But honestly, is opening America's most beloved sports season far across the sea such a terrific idea? The answer: Sure, if you agree that selling MLB merchandise in Japan is way more important than, at the most eagerly anticipated time of year, giving home fans a chance to see, you know, their home team.
And if you agree that selling MLB merchandise in Japan is way more important than trying to get A's fans excited out of the gate about a team that is probably not going to knock anyone's socks off (or anyone's Sox off in Boston or Chicago, for that matter).
And if you agree that selling MLB merchandise in Japan is way more important than one thing baseball has more of than any other American sport: tradition. I guarantee you this whole thing doesn't go over well in Cincinnati, where citizens were proud for many decades that their city was given the honor of staging the major-league opener because the city gave birth to the first pro baseball team in 1869.
I understand times change. But playing the season's first games in the middle of the night in another country sounds like something the Arena Football League would do to gain attention. On what planet does it make sense for Major League Baseball? On Planet Selig, apparently.
The commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, is a booster of the game's "globalization." In many ways, I applaud him. The World Baseball Classic of 2006 was an extremely underrated event. The decision to play recent exhibitions in China was a savvy diplomatic move. One year, it would be very groovy to play the All-Star Game in Tokyo or Mexico City.
Unfortunately, too often when the marketing people come calling, Selig is unable to say no. Which is how we ended up with a Taco Bell "Hit The Target" inflatable rubber raft in McCovey Cove during the 2002 World Series. These Japanese games are part of that trend, to whiz-bang up the sport, to make it appear more hip and fashionable.
Sorry. This week, when I'm sleeping through what should be one of the season's best moments, the words "hip" and "fashionable" won't be what come to mind. Two other words will come to mind instead: Unnecessarily desperate.