The next-year schedule traditionally was released in bits and pieces, a club schedule here and a club schedule there. Then in January, the master schedule typically was released. Times have changed in Major League Baseball, though. Baseball is headed for yet another overall season attendance record, and fans schedule their desired ballpark dates earlier than ever due to so many large crowds, competitive balance and collective zeal.
The annual Sunday night opener will be announced later pending a matchup for the ESPN audience, but everything else is pretty much set. The Monday openers will be on April 6, highlighted by the traditional opener that day in Cincinnati vs. the Mets, and that will be one week later than usual. Because the season starts a week into April, there exists the possibility for a World Series Game 7 on Nov. 5, 2009 -- if the postseason schedule follows the 2007-08 procedures.
That would be the latest finish to any season in Major League history. The only previous case of official November baseball was in 2001, when the regular season was suspended for a week because of the September 11 attacks and the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in a Game 7 classic on Nov. 4.
Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were among those who played key roles in that game, and they will be back in 2009 for another noteworthy event. The Yankees will be the last team to host a home opener, so get ready for a lot of suspense. The new Yankee Stadium will open its doors for a real game on April 16, with the Indians as the opponent and a full house for a brand-new era.
It still is kind of unthinkable that there will be Yankee baseball at some place other than the current Yankee Stadium. Many people are yet to go through quite a bit of emotion in coming days as the fabled ballpark is to host its final regular-season game on Sunday night. But life moves on, and the sight of the 2009 schedule will be, for many, the first vivid example of this case. Putting it out this early also will help their fans with the relocation, according to the Yankees, who sent current season-ticket holders a Relocation Program Guide along with a DVD describing the new park.
Across town, the Mets won't be opening much earlier. Their first game at grandiose Citi Field will be on April 13 against the Padres. The only thing that is not known at this point is how much longer baseball will be played at Shea Stadium. The Mets' playoff hopes are alive and they are hoping for a third and final World Series championship in the old venue.
Will the Yankees be able to open their ballpark the way they did in 1923? Babe Ruth and the Bronx Bombers won it all that first year -- something no other team did until the 2006 Cardinals clinched the title at new Busch Stadium. The young Mets labored through a 59-103 season in their first season at Shea in 1964, and obviously the expectations will be for quite the opposite in their first campaign at Citi Field. That figures to translate immediately as the Mets are now accepting deposits for season tickets.
While the New York clubs are opening their new ballparks, the Twins will be saying a gradual goodbye all season to the Metrodome while awaiting the 2010 opening of Target Field. The Twins are accepting deposits for ticket packages that can let you see any home game between the April 6 opener against Seattle to the final regular-season contest in Metrodome history: that last Sunday -- Oct. 4 against Kansas City.
Those same Royals will start their own season in style -- about as close as you can come to a new park without starting from scratch.The Royals home opener and the official grand-reopening of Kauffman Stadium are set for April 10 against the Yankees. Many people around the game already viewed the Royals' ballpark as one of the most beautiful; it is going to be a must-see with more amenities in 2009.
The average Tigers fan definitely is looking ahead right now. If that's you, then you were counting on October magic in 2008 and you wish you could have an April do-over. But that's baseball, and there's no crying. What you really want to see is when and where the Tigers are playing in 2009. They open at Toronto on April 6, and the first game at Comerica Park is on April 10. Many fans are going to jump on this first opportunity, and the Tigers are among many accepting deposits so that steps can be taken now.
Indians fans, same with you. After coming so close in the 2007 postseason, what a shock 2008 has been. After that opening road trip that begins in The Bronx, the Tribe will be home for the first time on April 10 to face the Blue Jays. An Indians fan can dive into the full schedule now and plan ahead for tickets, as if a gift has just been given to them in this time of difficulty.
It would be especially interesting to many Indians fans to know whether CC Sabathia will make a trip back to pitch at Jacobs Field in 2009 against his former team. That depends on whether he re-signs with the Brewers, who acquired him from Cleveland this summer. What is known, however, is that Milwaukee will be there next summer, as Interleague Play returns and this time with a rotation that includes primarily same-region divisional matchups (West vs. West, Central vs. Central, East vs. East).
Of course, all of those highly popular natural rivalries like Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox and Dodgers-Angels will be back as well. It has become the norm for certain dates in that stretch of Interleague Play to crack the all-time top 10 for largest one-day attendances in Major League Baseball. Can you imagine what it will be like when the Yanks and Mets play each other at new ballparks for home-and-home Interleague series? The Mets are at the Yankees on June 12-14, and vice-versa on June 26-28.
Interleague Play always brings other intriguing possibilities, and one of them in 2009 will be Dodgers at White Sox. That will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1959 World Series between those clubs, won by Los Angeles in six. It was the first title for the Dodgers after moving West from Brooklyn, coming against a "Go Go Sox" team that would wait until 2005 before finally winning a Fall Classic.
Another sure draw: The Yankees will make their first trip to Atlanta since 2000. Braves fans can place deposits now for the opportunity to be there. And how about Cito Gaston managing the Blue Jays against Philadelphia for a pair of home-and-home Interleague series? It was 15 years ago next month that he managed the Blue Jays to a World Series title against those Phillies.
Cincinnati fans always know when and where their team is opening a season. The Reds against host the traditional home opener, always in the daytime on the first Monday, following the annual Findlay Market Opening Day Parade. Now they know the identity of their opponent, those same Mets. The reality of dwindling days remaining in a 2008 Reds season is offset by the anticipation of a sure tomorrow, in the form of this 2009 schedule.
Baseball's annual intermission will start after the Sunday games of July 12, and the 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played on July 14 at Busch Stadium. It will be the first Midsummer Classic in St. Louis since 1966, the inaugural season of the previous Busch Stadium, when the the National League won in a 2-1, 10-inning classic. "It really is a big deal for the Cardinals and St. Louis," said Bill DeWitt Jr., the Cardinals' principal owner. "It's been a long time for the city."
Those Cardinals begin the season with seven games in seven consecutive days at Busch. The last time they opened a season with a homestand of seven-or-more games was in 1926, an eight-game stand that featured a pair of four-game series versus Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Individual clubs were making their own announcements about the schedule, and if you want to know exactly how important this is, then just consider the way the A's began their news release: "With aspirations of returning to playoff form, the Oakland Athletics will christen the 2009 season with a four-game series against their cross-state rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium April 6-9."
Remember how hot the D-Backs started this season? Don't be surprised to see them on an early roll in 2009, either. They play 18 of their first 21 games in Phoenix, and deposits are now under way.
It promises to be an especially intriguing start to a regular season, because the World Baseball Classic will be back for its second go-round. That international event will take place during Spring Training, as it did in 2006, featuring players from various MLB rosters, and there again will be the side story of how clubs prepare for their openers in the wake of this important tournament.
If you're a Red Sox or Cubs fan, then you probably either are entrusted with the unquestioned privilege of tickets to games at hallowed parks -- or you wonder how and when you can get your hands on some. In both cases, now is a chance to prepare for more blissful moments. Tampa Bay opens on April 6 at Fenway Park -- the first time since 2002 that the Red Sox open at home, and just the second time dating back to 1996 -- and the Cubs start the season that same day in Houston before their April 13 home opener against Colorado rolls around.
At that point, next year will be here. Cubs fans hope they don't have to say, "Wait 'til next year" this year. They hope the title drought ends at exactly one century. That remains to be seen.