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Why MLB should turn first playoff Friday into an annual celebration

Sportsnet logo Sportsnet 2017-10-06 Tao of Stieb

Today is the best day of the baseball season.

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Sure, there’s Opening Day, or the home opener, or pitchers and catcher reporting, or the trade deadline(s), and many other notable occurrences that have been ingrained into the culture, calendar and lexicon of baseball. But for the hardcore baseball fan, it’s hard to beat a day like today.

Every season, there’s one day in October when all four League Division Series need to get a game in to maintain the tight schedule of the first post-season series, and it results in four games played in succession. It’s at least 12-to-16 hours of gloriously tense, meaningful baseball.

For those of us who love this game, the idea of staying on the couch or hitting up an appropriate establishment for a full day of baseball action brings joy to the heart, even if our primary rooting interest isn’t represented on the field.

It should be a national holiday. But you’d be forgiven if it somehow snuck up on you.

Strangely, for a sport that has commodified and branded and sold most every notable date on the schedule, this day doesn’t have a clever name, nor a defined date on the baseball calendar. It’s the day that you remember the night before when TV schedule for the next day is announced, and you kick yourself for not planning ahead.

Attempting to reconfigure your life on short notice to dedicate a full day to playoff baseball requires a level of explanation to friends, families and employers that may betray a slight misalignment of priorities. (In their eyes.)

After several consecutive years of not planning ahead, and attempting to finagle a way to watch the games on the go, you’ll find me firmly planted on my couch all day long today, blowing the doors off my recommended daily intake.

The phenomenon of the four-game pile-up is relatively new. While it has occurred throughout the wild-card era of baseball, the new development of the play-in wild-card games themselves virtually guarantee that this day is necessary each season.

That being the case, MLB should take steps to make more of a defined event of the day. Rather than leaving the date to chance, they should define the date of the First Friday or Best Friday or Friday Playoff Jamboree when they set the schedule before the season.

Having the date fall on a Friday is a must to successfully turn this day into an event. Saturdays are cluttered with college football in the fall, and Sundays are dedicated to pro football. Besides, the “playing hooky” aspect of the event is all part of the fun.

People could plan ahead, book the time off work or other commitments, and spend the day with other kindred spirits, those who consider the prospect of spending almost all of their waking hours enraptured by playoff baseball to be a festival of delights.

It has the potential of becoming an annual happening, with people planning four courses of snacking from noon until midnight, or sports bars opening early and dedicating their screens to the cause. It’s certainly preferable to a Super Bowl party, where endless pre-game panels and lousy entertainment make the day drag on, and the actual event can feel anticlimactic.

The concept is not without precedent. The early games of March Madness became an event precisely because the amount of action and the importance of the games were concentrated into a short, defined period. Enthusiastic fans would take the day off, or find a way to stream games, resulting in the annual pseudo-economics stories about lost productivity caused by the tournament.

There’s an opportunity for baseball to own another day on the calendar, which helps to pull casual or fringe fans into the orbit of true believers. Unlike Opening Day, or the All-Star Game or Home Run Derby, this October frenzy of games highlights baseball at its most consequential, when the quality of play is high and the tension levels are even higher.

Creating a platform to showcase games like today’s can only help to bring in new fans, and maintain baseball’s relevance in a splintering sports culture.

Or, at the very least, it can remind you to start laying the foundations for your “sick day” or “working from home” well in advance.

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