Wednesday is the most exciting day in baseball history.
Well, maybe not. But it’s still the most exciting day of baseball that I can remember in years.
Eight playoff games over a more than 12-hour span, starting at noon with the Reds and Braves. Four elimination games stemming from Tuesday’s start to the 2020 MLB Playoffs. A total of 16 teams and fan bases with every excuse to blow off work, at least “work” from home for a few days.
It’s baseball spiked with March Madness — and I don’t care if it sticks in the future. It’s exciting, and that’s exactly what Major League Baseball needs.
I’m excited for my wife. She’s a die-hard Indians fan still looking for that first World Series since 1948, and she managed to steer our two kids down that dangerous path. I’m excited for my best friends. If they aren’t Indians fans, they’re Reds fans who have one of the hottest teams in baseball and are looking for their first World Series since 1990. I’m not excited for another round of texts from both fan bases about Trevor Bauer, however.
I’m also excited for my favorite team. The San Diego Padres are back in the postseason for the first time since 2006. Well, that’s 2007 if you count that play-in game against the Rockies. The Marlins are the only team that had a longer playoff drought, and they won the World Series that year, in 2003. It’s San Diego’s turn.
For me, it’s not really about the Padres. I’m part of a decent-sized demographic of casual baseball fans who were born in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We opened wax packs. We tracked the league leaders and the standings in the newspaper. We can quote all those ’80s baseball movies word for word.
We … wait for the shameless plug … loved reading The Sporting News.
We also grew up playing baseball first before switching full time to football and basketball in the 1990s. We lost some interest in baseball after the 1994 strike. We lost more after being duped by the Steroid Era. We try to come back every year, but that’s tough when college football and the NFL start.
We acknowledge the intensity of playoff baseball, but we somehow pay more attention to the NFL and our fantasy football teams. Given the choice between “Sunday Night Football” and the World Series, we’re watching the quarterback matchup instead of the pitchers’ duel.
Does this sound like you? Then today is for you, the dynamite drop-in baseball fan. Major League Baseball has an opportunity to pull you back in with this eight-game schedule — a 16-team field that can be the perfect substitute for the first day of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which we didn’t get this year.
Does that make you a bandwagon baseball fan at whom the die-hards might scoff? Who cares? They should be accepting those applications.
You don’t have to care about all those issues that die-hard baseball fans fret about. I tune out takes about bat flips, disengage from debates about unwritten rules and ignore arguments about whether baseball is dying. Baseball will always be cool. That said, there will be more than a few times when I ask, “Who the is that guy?” or “Does Coco Crisp still play?”
You don’t have to care about the playoff format either. I don’t care how they got there in a 60-game season impacted by COVID-19 or which teams barely cleared .500 or which teams finished under .500. I don’t even know how many games the division and championship series are. Is it five or seven this year? Are they doing that extra-inning thing with the guy on second?
I don’t care whether MLB expands or contracts the regular season and playoff field in future seasons. I don’t care the playoff bubbles. But for the first time since Game 7 between the Indians and Cubs in 2016 — the single greatest sporting event I’ve ever had the honor of covering — I do care about the playoffs. I have a vested fan-level interest in Major League Baseball. I have a printed-out bracket with start times to prove it.
I just want to throw on my Tony Gwynn “Homage” shirt for the first time, sit back on the couch and enjoy. From a strictly casual-fan standpoint, this is the most exciting sports day since the COVID-19 pandemic took away most of our sports in March. It’s better than the NHL and NBA playoff bubbles. Yes, I know Game 1 of the NBA Finals is Wednesday, too, but that series will only go as long as LeBron James wants it to. It’s better than the staggered college football start, and it’s at least on par with an NFL regular-season week.
If this awakens that love for baseball from that generation that got away, then so be it.
Does it count? Yes, it does.
Seven of the teams in this year’s field (Athletics, Blue Jays, Braves, Brewers, Padres, Reds, Twins) have not been to the World Series in the 21st century. That’s more than the six teams (Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Marlins, White Sox, Yankees) who have won the World Series in the 21st century. That’s a good ratio to have and something to at least consider when MLB has its next 162-game season.
The NFL expanded its playoffs. Maybe baseball should, too.
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If the goal is to create excitement within the confines of COVID-19, then MLB commissioner Rob Manfred got this right. More teams equals more fan bases equals more eyeballs. On Wednesday, the casual fans are coming, at least for a while. There is more hope across the MLB postseason than ever before, and it comes at the right time.
I can’t wait. I can’t wait to watch my wife and kids hate on the Yankees for three hours. I can’t wait to read the texts from my Cincinnati buddies about Bauer for three more hours. I can’t wait to see the Padres take the first step toward their first appearance in the World Series since Gwynn hit .500 against the Yankees in that dreaded four-game sweep in 1998.
We’re all going to be in the playoffs together, even if just for a few days. I’m not sure that will ever happen again. My aunt in St. Louis is already texting me. Do they not play football in St. Louis?
That’s why I can’t wait to watch baseball Wednesday. By the way, the “Thursday Night Football” game is an eye-sore between the Jets and Broncos, so I’ll do it again the next day.
I’ll be happy to skip work to do it, too.
Just don’t tell the folks at Sporting News.