Hall of Fame baseball owner and executive Bill Veeck once opined, “There are two seasons, winter and baseball.” Today with 24-hour sports TV, the MLB Network which is devoted to the game, Internet sites (yes like BellaOnline) and print media the “liturgical cycle” for baseball runs 365 days. From Spring Training through Championship Play (also known as “The Regular Season”), the Post-Season (once known as the “World Series”), the bestowing of Awards (Cy Young, MVP etc) and Free Agent Signing Season (which is the one relatively new addition), baseball wheels around the sun with the planet itself.
The vast bulk of the season, roughly six months, is made up of Championship Play. During the first part of the previous century, Opening Day usually happened sometime around mid-April, and ended usually around the last Sunday of September with the World Series commencing the following Tuesday. By mid-October we had usually crowned a champion. Today Opening Day is often the last Sunday in March and the World Series now ends sometime early in November. In that respect, baseball, which abhors cold temperatures and difficult conditions, has benefited from what we call climate change or “global warming”.
July is the apex of the regular season, roughly the mid-point of the 162-game schedule. In the early part of the 20th Century July 4th was generally noted as a time when the contenders had presented and separated themselves from the pretenders and also-rans; since the 1930’s, the All-Star Game has taken on that milepost role. You can expect to see many evaluations and assessments on shows such as ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” and MLB Network where they give out “first half report cards.”
The All-Star Game itself provides pageantry and a showcase for the game’s best players, in a framework that pretty much resembles a regular baseball game (has anyone ever mistaken the Pro Bowl for a real football game?). For most players, though, the three- or four-day break becomes a treasured time to heal, get re-acquainted with their families, and mentally refresh themselves for the remainder of the long season.
I personally don’t care much for the All-Star Game, although as a boy I really enjoyed it because I got to see American League stars that didn’t come to Philadelphia, and in the 1980’s when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area I got to attend the 1984 and 1987 games at Candlestick Park and the Oakland Coliseum and I will say that in person they are a lot of fun. I must add that like many others I find the “make it count” aspect of awarding World Series home field advantage to the winning league to be completely bogus (can you imagine the NBA or NHL awarding home court or home ice advantages to the winners of their all-star games? Unlikely).
What is interesting this weekend is the Futures Games, where top-ranked prospects will get to display their talents. Watch this if you can, and you will see many players who will be on the scene in the next season or two.
Once the break is over, we will be in the midst of Trading Deadline Season, where teams can make trades without players having to clear waivers. We’ve already seen the first major deal, as the Seattle Mariners sent pitcher Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers, potentially changing the balance-of-power in the American League West and beyond, potentially. There will be more such “blockbuster” deals as “sellers” decide to dump high-priced or soon-to-be-free-agent stars and take in prospects from the “buyers” looking to bolster their rosters for the grind ahead. It is a fascinating time for speculation, discussion, and argument among fans.
Once the month is over, we are into The Dog Days, and that will be the subject of another article.