'Make Opening Day a Holiday' reaches first goal

Petition hits required 100,000 signatures for White House to decide on campaign

'Make Opening Day a Holiday' reaches first goal

Ozzie Smith and the fans have spoken.

Now it's up to the White House to make an unofficial holiday official.

Budweiser's "Make Opening Day a Holiday" campaign easily reached its required 100,000 petition signatures on Friday -- far ahead of next Wednesday's deadline -- with the goal of President Barack Obama proclaiming this March 31 an official day of national observance in the United States. That is the Monday of 13 Opening Day games in Major League Baseball.

"There's no denying the passion that baseball fans have for America's national pastime," said Smith, the Hall of Fame shortstop from the Cardinals and the campaign's spokesperson. "The more than 100,000 people who signed the petition are just a fraction of the 1.3 million who will attend Opening Day games this year. The day is already an unofficial holiday, but now it's time to make it official."

Tom Kraus, director of Budweiser Brand Marketing at Anheuser-Busch InBev, said the White House technically has 60 days to respond once the petition is presented. Given that this is the national pastime, given the timing and given the history of presidential first pitches on Opening Day going back to William Howard Taft, let's just say this conversation already is underway, and there is a chance for unique news out of Washington.

"We're working with them to accelerate that so we can get a quicker response," Kraus said. "Once we get a quicker notification, we will share that info with our Facebook friends and all the folks who have been engaged in this movement with us. Then from there, we are working on specific market activations to bring this to life and thank the community and the White House for hopefully making this an official holiday."

Kraus thanked fans all over for jumping on this bandwagon, one that was seemingly pulled with the raw power of Clydesdales. Behind the scenes, there was a sense of anticipation in the final 24 hours, as those involved with the grassroots campaign closely watched the petition number gradually move closer to the magic six-figure threshold.

"We all know that Budweiser and baseball have been together for many years, both starting in the 1800s, so when you can take two culturally relevant brands like that and go after a movement like Opening Day, it's exciting," Kraus said. "MLB has been a great partner of ours as well.

"We're excited by what we've seen activity-wise, a lot of digital amplification of this program. We're excited. Now that we've reached 100,000, we're just super excited to be able to share this moment with our fans and Budweiser fans across the country."

It remains to be seen when and if Smith himself will be at the White House in the coming days as a next step in this process, as those logistics are yet to be announced. Also, it still might be asking a lot for the White House to actually declare a federal holiday permitting a day off for masses. But Smith said an estimated 22 million Americans already have played hooky from work or school on that day, anyway, and official recognition is the goal.

"No doubt everybody would love to have a day off," Kraus said. "But the real goal is having the White House recognize this effort and proclaim it a national day of observance. That really just recognizes how powerful Opening Day itself is across the country. That's the ultimate win."

To celebrate Opening Day on March 31 and the culmination of its "Make Opening Day a Holiday" campaign, Budweiser will deliver 2,000 kegs of its day-fresh draught beer to MLB cities and stadiums across the country next week.

In addition, earlier this month, more than six million cases of Budweiser bottles featuring the logos of MLB and 23 teams hit shelves in what the brewer called "a true sign of spring's arrival."

"The partnership with Ozzie Smith really kicked this thing off," Kraus said. "Being here in St. Louis and having that association with the Cardinals, we have such a great rapport with Ozzie, he's been a big part of bringing this to life. When we discussed it with Ozzie, you could see him perk up. He wanted to be a part of it.

"We came out of the gates running, aired some of his digital videos, were able to pick up some momentum. There was a big peak as we started this campaign with him almost 30 days ago, and now it's been exciting down to the wire to see the numbers change and evolve and grow. The past seven to 10 days, we've been confident based on what we've seen that we would hit that mark and see it come to life."

The regular season officially begins on Saturday with the MLB Opening Series in Sydney, Australia, where the Dodgers and D-backs play two games starting at 4 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET. Then there is the Opening Night game on March 30 between the Dodgers and Padres on ESPN, followed by Opening Day on Monday. The last season opener will be Yankees at Astros the following day, and then many other home openers follow with pageantry.

"Opening Day is such a special day across all the markets," Kraus said. "The hope, the optimism that your team is going to be there in the World Series, there's so much excitement that goes on with Opening Day. Now that we've hit 100,000 ... we still have some work to do with the White House in getting their official response, but to get there, we couldn't be happier."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.