The 2011 MLB regular season got a little bit closer this week and not just in the literal sense of the intervening days passing by.Â
Start times for all 2,430 regular season games were officially announced on Thursday.Â Itâ€™s another little step along the way as the new season slowly comes into view.Â The times are subject to change, but they give fans the chance to book single-game tickets and to plan road trips.
For those of us in the UK, the publication of the times means we can begin weighing up early-season contests that will be played at a convenientÂ hour for us to catch the action live over the internet and/or ESPN America.Â They also allow us to think ahead to season openers and the arrangements weâ€™ll need to make so that we can start the baseball year as we mean to go on: following the best action, and our chosen team, as closely as technology allows from many miles away.
There is a slightly different feel to the early-season schedule this year following the decision to start the regular season a few days earlier than has been common in recent years.Â
Instead of the usual Sunday night (i.e. early hours of Monday British time) opener followed by a host of day games (early evening) on Monday, we have five day games on a Thursday plus a night game involving the reigning World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants.
As with any change, each person will find advantages and disadvantages depending on how it effects them.Â On balance, it should be a good thing for most Brits.Â
The majority will find it easier to follow games at 18.05 British Summer Time on Thursday 31 March as the first pitches are thrown at Yankee Stadium and Nationals Park, compared to a 1 a.m. or 3 a.m. start.Â Those two games alone show why the opening days are so eagerly anticipated.Â Itâ€™s not simply the return of competitive baseball, which is a cause for great joy in itself, itâ€™s the fact that the best pitchers will be going up against each other and that newly-acquired players will be making their debuts for their teams.
The Yankees are hosting the Detroit Tigers, probably making for a CC Sabathia-Justin Verlander match up.Â The Nationals will host the Atlanta Braves and, subject to any injuries in the meantime, each team will give a debut to their major off-season signings: right-fielder Jayson Werth for Washington and second baseman Dan Uggla for Atlanta.
Following on from those two games, itâ€™s Brewers v Reds, Angels v Royals and Padres v Cardinals, before the Giants take on the Dodgers at 1 a.m. to round things off.Â And then thereâ€™s five early games on Friday to enjoy during the British evening before a weekend dominated by games being played in daylight.Â We couldnâ€™t ask for a better start.
My team, the Oakland Aâ€™s, donâ€™t get their season underway until the early hours of Saturday (2 April)morning with a 3.05 a.m. start against the Seattle Mariners.Â I can live with that though: better to have an early start (or a very late night) on a Saturday than on a Tuesday, as has been the case in recent years.Â Opening day/night hasnâ€™t been too kind to the Aâ€™s either: we havenâ€™t won our opener since a 5-4 victory over Texas in 2004.Â Maybe shifting things forward by a few days will break that sequence?Â Hereâ€™s hoping thatâ€™s the case.
Before all of that though we have Spring Training games to whet the appetite.Â The first game between two Major League teams is set for Friday 25 February as the Arizona Diamondbacks will play against the San Francisco Giants, with a 20.05 GMT first pitch.
Thatâ€™s now less than four weeks away.