In half of America, it’s absolutely horrible outside, and will be so through tomorrow. But in some parts, including Florida, the weather is ideal. So, naturally, it’s a perfect time for Opening Days.
Yes, that’s plural. Like so many people of my generation, the first pitch of spring training is always the de facto beginning of spring. A couple of games are scheduled for Arizona today, but looking at the forecast they don’t look all that promising to take place, and even if they do, it won’t be ideal conditions.
No, the real start of spring training is, as it has been often, the Boston Red Sox holding court at the Fenway Park knockoff in Fort Myers against the Northeastern University Huskies, The same school that can’t hold their own in the Beanpot Tournament in hockey, plays an FCS schedule in football and is an uncompetitive 10-17 in men’s basketball in the Colonial Athletic Association is sending its baseball team onto the same field as the Red Sox. Granted, the Sox are coming off a down year. But as we type this, they’re winning 5-0, so for Sawx faithful that’s a good a start to a new season as they can hope for.
But, honestly, all of that’s a generational thing. While MLB is employing new rules as soon as tomorrow to speed up the pace and open up base-stealing opportunties (and we know how some of you readers feel about that!), way too many others are more focused on the other opening day tomorrow. The start of the 28th season of MLS.
Fresh off an exciting World Cup contested only two months ago, MLS is looking to expand its global reach with a new media deal that will place all of their matches on Apple TV+, with a handful also being seen on over-the-air TV, as tomorrow afternoon’s first match between Nashville FC and New York City FC will be (on FOX, and, ironically from Yankee Stadium, giving new meaning to the term “first pitch”).
Later in the evening, every match will be available from a single source, with simultaneous kickoffs to many, all supposedly in glorious HD/4K, with top-notch production values. That’s not all that will be new this year. There’s a 29th team, in the soccer hotbed of St. Louis, where indoor games sold out in the 80s. There will be four additional playoff teams, the two lowest seeded ones in each conference playing a play-in match to determine the first round opponent for each division’s champion, with eight best-of-three matches that will be played to a conclusion, by shootout if needed, in the round of 16. And there will be a number of new players from all over the world, hoping to capitalize on the league’s summer-leaning schedule to draw on world audiences in the same manner that the European leagues have done in the winter. Per USA Today’s Jim Reineking:
Stipe Biuk, forward, Los Angeles FC: The 20-year-old Croatian was a 2022 nominee for UEFA’s “Golden Boy Award.”
►Enzo Copetti, forward, Charlotte FC: In pairing Copetti with 2022 team goal-scoring leader Karol Swiderski, Charlotte is aiming for an Austin FC-like sophomore season surge.
►Evander, midfielder, Portland Timbers: Portland spent a reported club-record transfer fee to bring in the Brazilian, who the club hopes is the play-making successor to Timbers legend Diego Valeri.
►Giorgos Giakoumakis, forward, Atlanta United: Gone is Josef Martínez, who won the 2018 MVP award with Atlanta. The goal-scoring pressure now rests on the Greek international whom Atlanta signed from Scottish Premiership powerhouse Celtic FC.
►Andrés Gómez, forward, Real Salt Lake: The new ownership group in Salt Lake City is not messing around, setting a club record on the transfer fee for the promising 20-year-old Colombian.
Oh and by the way, rumblings continue to persist that another prominent South America, who is fairly well known in global circles, might wind up in Miami by mid-season.
These players, and the multi-cultural backgrounds they encompass, capitvate a younger generation, particularly one that is device-first. Apple TV+ is a natural outlet for them, even if a lot of cable networks and broadcast stations will now be without a major league sports franchise. Whether it’s ominous or opportunisitic remains to be seen. At a price point of nearly $100 (just under $80 if you already are an Apple TV+ subscriber, it’s not cheap. On the other hand, if you price it out, that’s less than a quarter a match. Even I can spare that these days.
It sure doesn’t look like spring out there. But inside, on our screens, it will be sure look like it is somewhere.