THE CLOCKS HAVE gone forward here in Ireland and summertime is here again.
For millions of Americans, however, summer begins today when the first pitches of the 2011 Major League Baseball season are thrown.
Baseball’s Opening Day is an institution in America, a portent of the long, lazy days of summer to come. In an age of instant gratification the marathon of the 162 game baseball season seems like a throwback to slower, gentler times.
Proceedings will begin at 6:05pm GMT when the Detroit Tigers are hosted by the New York Yankees (live, ESPN America) and the Atlanta Braves travel to Washington DC to play the Nationals. Thirty teams will play almost every day over the next six months in order to compete for a chance to win the World Series.
On the surface, baseball is a very simple game bearing similarities to the game of rounders one might have played as a child. Throw ball, hit ball, catch ball, run around the bases to score a run. Easy. After that, the rest is just details. In terms of the fan experience think cricket, only shorter and with more razzmatazz.
Major League Baseball is split into two leagues, the National League (16 teams) and the American League (14 teams). Each league is split into three divisions – East, Central and West – with between four and six teams in each. The winners of each division qualify for the playoffs along with the best runner-up in each league. The champions of each league then play against each other in the World Series which in 2010 saw the National League’s San Francisco Giants beat the American League’s Texas Rangers.
Teams to watch in 2011
The American League sees the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the AL’s perennial heavyweights, out in front. After that it’s looking like the World Series runners-up Texas Rangers with the Minnesota Twins the bookies’ favourite to emerge from the dogfight that usually is the AL Central.
In the National League, there is heavy money on the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL East with the Giants favoured to win the NL West once again. The NL Central looks like being a squeaky affair with the Milwaukee Brewers, St Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds all looking closely matched.
How to follow MLB in Ireland
For the baseball fan in Ireland there are three ways to view live action during the season:
For the casual fan interested in catching a bit of baseball during the season, ESPN shows a couple of games per week as well as regular screenings of ESPN’s flagship show Baseball Tonight.
2) ESPN America
For the slightly more interested baseball fan, ESPN America shows a large number of MLB games each week. Many don’t start until midnight Irish time, especially during weekdays, but the weekend usually brings a decent slate of live action to the comfort of one’s living room at a reasonable hour.
The online arm of Major League Baseball, MLB Advanced Media, was the first major professional sport to fully embrace the possibilities offered by the internet. With a decent connection the baseball fan in Ireland can watch every single game of the season, either live or delayed, as well as listen to both home and away radio commentary of each game. MLB even have apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry allowing a baseball junkie to watch or listen to games while out and about.
So, there you go. Baseball season is almost upon us. For the fan in Ireland it’s the end of a long, cold winter and the beginning of the countdown to October. Like a black-ball final in snooker, it’s that very investment of time and the slow building of tension that makes it all worthwhile.