Dieter Kurtenbach: Can baseball reinvent itself amid crisis?

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Does Alexander Pope have any poems about summer?

Because I don’t think hope will be “springing” eternal this year.

Thursday was supposed to be baseball’s Opening Day. The A’s were supposed to be hosting the Twins at the Coliseum. The Giants were supposed to be in Los Angeles, playing the rival Dodgers.

It was supposed to be marked with a ceremony, like every other year. Afternoon baseball, punched up with unnecessary pomp like pregame line-ups, organ music, and bunting around the grandstand (but never at the plate — it’s 2020).

It was supposed to be a smile-filled bon voyage to begin a long season’s journey, a day of unbridled and — in the case of the Giants this season — unfounded optimism.

But for the first time since the strike wiped out the 1994 World Series and the scheduled Opening Day in 1995, we’re going to have to wait until May… Or June… Or maybe even July for the baseball season to start.

And when baseball does return, there might not be any need for an in-ballpark ceremony — there might not be fans in the stands.

But may I remind you: if we don’t stay in our houses for the next few weeks, there might not be a baseball season at all. Bigger issues are at play here.

Sports will eventually come back. At some point, baseball will have another Opening Day. But sports were also the first thing to go amid our collective California shut down and they’ll probably be the last part of our normal life that returns.

Or whatever normal is after all of this.

How and when sports return is anyone’s guess right now, and clearly we, as a collective people, do not do well with ambiguity.

As we wait it out, NBC Sports Bay Area — like many sports stations around the world — has taken to playing old games. This weekend, I found comfort in watching an old Giants game, even though it was one I had already seen. It wasn’t because Chris Heston’s 2015 no-hitter was in any way moving — it was because of the normalcy baseball provided.

Baseball has its issues. It’s a boring game by our modern standards. Geez, can it be boring.

But baseball is there for you damn near every day. It’s the steady soundtrack to the spring and summer and fall. It’s a consistent companion.

It’d be nice to have a companion in these frightening times. Something stable in a moment where everything seems off-kilter.

And amid a Kruk and Kuip-backdropped daydream, I wondered how baseball will be received when it does finally return.

I haven’t missed the NCAA Tournament at all. Sorry, but it’s true. The league-worst Warriors certainly helped, but I haven’t felt a void in my personal life without the NBA — I’d be fine with jumping to next year. Can the Warriors go to six straight NBA Finals?

But baseball is yet to miss scheduled regular-season games and I already miss it.

I wish there wasn’t an absence, but perhaps it’ll help make our feelings towards the sport fonder. When we return, maybe an appreciation for what baseball represents in the sporting landscape — stability — will supersede the day-to-day results and the annoyance of this guy stepping out the box for the fifth time this at-bat.

Or not. Baseball, with its already dwindling popularity, might be further forgotten amid what is sure to be an absurd sports landscape when games resume. How can you compete with the NBA and NFL Training Camps in August?

At the same time, this forced pause gives baseball a unique opportunity to re-invent itself a bit, like the kid who grew eight inches over the summer going into sophomore year of high school.

Major League Baseball’s owners want to play a full 162-game season — in front of fans — as soon as possible. That’s understandable, given that nearly 30% of Major League Baseball’s revenue comes from gate receipts. It’s also extremely unlikely, if for no other reason than there are not enough playable days in the year. Baseball is an outdoor sport for most, after all.

How short?

Well, how great would 81 games be?

That’d be a demolition derby-style season. You wouldn’t be able to look away.

If one of baseball’s issues is that the regular-season games don’t feel important, well, let’s make them all twice as important.

The structure of the schedule could change, too. Football is winning the great American sports race in part because it claims days. Thursday, Sunday, Monday are for the NFL. Saturday? That for college football — America’s second favorite sport.

Of course, baseball would need to play more than once a week — four games is a minimum. But, conservatively, if we were going to start the Major League season on July 4 and play until Halloween (17 weeks), you could play 81 games by adopting a college baseball-style schedule.

Weekend series would feel huge. It’s said in baseball that momentum is your next starting pitcher. Well, how about building a schedule around that axiom. Give me Friday Night Aces, with Saturday and Sunday featuring the next best starters. How fun would that be?

Mid-week games would be for lesser pitchers, of course — guys Nos. 4 and 5 in the rotation. Don’t waste valuable weekend crowds on those guys. We could even have a one-game, mid-week series.

But gone would be the monotony of the baseball season. In its place would be events.

Mike Axisa of CBS Sports went as far as to suggest that a shortened season should start with an All-Star Game.

Now that is a great idea.

But as we sit, waiting, it’s all hope. Frivolous daydreams about frivolous games.

And even if it was only for one season — let’s be honest, it probably would be — the lessons of baseball embracing its inherent chaos, instead of trying to smooth it out over the course of a long season, would be outstanding. This schedule would provide a new kind of consistency for baseball. It’s too great a game to be relegated to an afterthought.

That said, if you could promise me 162 games starting Thursday, I’d take it in a heartbeat.


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