As a kid growing up in the 1980s, I was always extremely excited for the opening day of the baseball season. In the pre-Internet days, I remember calling a USA Today 1-900 toll number to find out the results of the first games of the season. Over the last 25 years, though, the buzz surrounding opening day seems to have diminished. Throughout the bombastic exchanges between Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless on ESPN’s First Take Wednesday morning, the two barely discussed baseball, even though opening day was the following day. Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon did the same on Tuesday’s Pardon the Interruption. What has happened?’
One key reason for the lower buzz for baseball’s start is the rise of the National Football League (NFL). Though football was already the most popular sport in the country by the 1980s, the gap between the NFL and major league baseball has grown significantly since then. Last summer, discussion of the NFL lockout overwhelmed discussion of the baseball season. Football, not baseball, is the national pastime today. See http://popculturemeetshistory.blogspot.com/2011/09/how-football-came-to-dominate-america.html
Another factor is the proliferation of sports across the entertainment landscape. Late March and early April are much more crowded than they were was a generation ago. “March Madness” and the Final Four dominate the discussion in the weeks before the debut of baseball. Though the Masters has always been held around opening day, the first golf major of the season has also risen in importance since the Reagan era. With the emergence of Tiger Woods in the late 90s, the event has grown in popularity, with casual sports fans much more likely to tune when Woods is in contention (which is virtually always the case at the Masters) See http://popculturemeetshistory.blogspot.com/2012/04/tigers-woods-impact-on-golf-15-years.html
With Tiger retuning to form following his scandal-induced slump, anticipation for this year’s “tradition unlike any other,” is as great as any in recent memory. Frankly, I’m more excited for the first round at Augusta National than for opening day.
Baseball continues to have a tremendous following and can still produce incredible excitement. In fact, it’s hard to think of any sports night in recent memory more gripping than last season’s final slate of games, when the wild card berths in both leagues remained at stake. Nor can many events match the drama of last year’s World Series, in which the St. Louis Cardinals won, even though the Texas Rangers were one strike a way from winning on two different occasions in Game Six. Nevertheless, it seems like the buzz around the start of the season isn’t what it once was.