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Will Orioles Season Opener Be Moved To Sunday Night?

December 23, 2013

One game between Baltimore and Boston teams was flexed out of a Sunday night time slot Dec. 22, as the Patriots and Ravens played at 4:25 p.m. instead of 8:30 p.m.

Another Baltimore-Boston game, by contrast, could be flexed into a Sunday night slot.

In the latter case, I'm referring to the Orioles and Red Sox, who are scheduled to play each other during the 2014 regular-season opener for each team.

Currently, that game is scheduled for the afternoon of Monday, March 31, in Baltimore, one of 14 opening games that will be played around the majors that day. But every year, ESPN -- which broadcasts Sunday night games -- works with MLB to reschedule one of the Monday games to Sunday night, thus allowing ESPN to kick off the coverage of the regular season.

MLB hasn't yet announced which game will become the March 30 ESPN Sunday night broadcast, and might not make that decision for another month or two. But I think there's a good chance they'll choose the Red Sox-Orioles game.

Based on recent history, ESPN's opening night broadcast usually showcases the defending World Series champions, which in this case would be the Red Sox. Here are the games that got the opening Sunday night ESPN broadcast during the past nine years (bold font represents the defending World Series champions).

March 31, 2013: Rangers at Astros
April 4, 2012: Cardinals at Marlins
April 2, 2011: Dodgers at Giants
April 4, 2010: Red Sox at Yankees
April 5, 2009: Braves at Phillies
March 30, 2008: Braves at Nationals
April 1, 2007: Mets at Cardinals
April 2, 2006: Indians at White Sox
April 3, 2005: Red Sox at Yankees

All told, ESPN's opening Sunday night telecast has featured the defending champions in seven of the past nine years. The only exceptions were in cases when there were other major storylines in play -- the 2013 opener represented the Astros' first game as a member of the American League (and featured a showdown of interstate rivals), and the 2008 opener was the first game at Nationals Park.

ESPN selects season-opening broadcasts that carry intriguing storylines in an effort to attract as many viewers as possible, and in many cases that means showcasing the defending champions. Plus, the large-market Red Sox usually draw a huge viewing audience. So there are plenty of reasons to think ESPN will tab the Red Sox-Orioles game as their Sunday night broadcast March 30.

That said, I hope I'm wrong. Personally, I'd much prefer that the Orioles' opener remain a Monday afternoon game instead of a Sunday night game. When I picture Opening Day in Baltimore, I think of a clear, sunny afternoon, a time when fans can take off work and plan their whole day around the game, perhaps getting some lunch at Lexington Market and tailgating at Pickles before heading over to the park for the pregame festivities. Fans can settle in and enjoy the game, sit in the sun (if not necessarily the warmth) and -- with the game likely to end early in the evening -- will have plenty of time to head home afterward and unwind.

A Sunday night game, on the other hand, wouldn't begin until 8 p.m., which would make a cold Baltimore March all the more frigid. And there's a good chance the game wouldn't end until after 11 p.m., especially considering the longer-than-usual, mid-inning commercial breaks that come with a nationally televised broadcast. People who travel a long way into Baltimore for the game might not get home until the wee hours of the morning, with many of them having to work the following day.

The last time the Orioles played an ESPN Sunday night season opener, it was April 4, 2004, also against the Red Sox. I attended that game, and the conditions were miserable. The temperature at the game's start was 43 degrees and dropped throughout the evening, with a brutal wind making the weather all the worse. It was probably the coldest game I've ever been to. Living in College Park, Md., at the time, I had to leave after the seventh inning to get home at a somewhat reasonable hour. The Orioles won, but my lasting memory of the game was how much I wished it had been played on a Monday afternoon instead.

If the Orioles' season opener moves from Monday to Sunday, it'll still be a fun, festive occasion, and it'll give the Birds more national exposure. But it just won't feel like Opening Day.