Brandon Veale column: The wrong Opening Day

Major League Baseball began its season on Friday, but that wasn't the beginning I was looking forward to.

Brandon Veale col sig mug
Brandon Veale

Friday's Major League Baseball Opening Day nightcap in Oakland featured the first use of what some softball fans may know as the "international tiebreaker" — starting extra innings with a runner on second base.

The only international ties I expected to be considering that day were at the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which were also supposed to begin Friday.

Matt Olson's grand slam for the A's rendered the bonus runner unnecessary, but it seemed like one last reminder of how July 24 was the wrong kind of Opening Day.

I expected to spend the evening waiting for NBC to make its quadrennial Parade of Nations quips about obscure countries like Djibouti and reading complaints about all the commercial breaks they edited into the ceremony to push it over the five-hour mark. I've played these so much that I turned it into a game: Opening Ceremony Bingo, where Olympic cliches like "unaccompanied child singing or acting" and "national delegation with funny-looking hats" can make you a winner.

I had considered "going nocturnal" for the Olympiad to see if the excitement of watching John Shuster's Cinderella story or Maddie Rooney's shootout heroics during the middle of the night from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics could carry over to fencing quarterfinals. Instead, I'm still up late at night but mostly due to stress or a need to catch up on a Yoga With Adriene video for exercise.


The International Olympic Committee decided to postpone the Tokyo Games on March 24, eventually placing them on the same 16-day period of the 2021 calendar. I remember being irritated at the time that the IOC didn't fight harder for the original timeline, but given four months of hindsight, the thought of attempting to hold this event at the present seems ludicrous. I'm not the only one who wonders if a 12-month delay will buy the world enough time.

Japan (population about 125 million) has fared relatively well against COVID-19, with 31,000 confirmed cases (Minnesota has 51,000 with a population of under 6 million) and about 1,000 deaths (Minnesota has 1,600). However, after largely "flattening the curve" in May and June, the Japanese infection rate in July surged to its worst levels to date (currently slightly below those of Minnesota). Tokyo organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said that if current conditions were still the case next summer, the Games would not be staged.

Both the organizing committee and the IOC have repeatedly said the Tokyo Games will not be postponed a second time. It's next year or never.

There is still reason to be optimistic. Some of that is due to time. Given current scientific progress, an effective COVID-19 vaccine by mid-2021 seems possible. At the very least, we have 12 months as a planet to catch up.

Geography helps. Japan doesn't have any land borders with anyone and the vast majority of Olympic arrivals will come through one location: Narita Airport.

However, my real faith in the Olympics taking place in 2021 is placed in the almighty dollar. The IOC has already said there will be no significant refund to the Japanese government if the Games aren't held. The postponement itself is expected to cost $2-6 billion dollars and if there are no games, the taxpayer cost is expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars. That's a swindle that would embarrass even the IOC.

And then there's the matter of NBC. Sporting events around the world have taken place in much worse circumstances than Japan's for the sake of fulfilling TV contracts. NBC pays about $1.2 billion to the IOC per Olympiad. That bolsters a lot of athletic budgets around the world. NBC will probably need some programming next summer, and if the NFL season is significantly interrupted, they may be starving for ad money.

The IOC might have trouble making a "bubble" big enough for 11,000 athletes plus coaches, officials and media, but there are half-solutions. International spectators might be out, but it's not like a lot of folks could afford to go to Tokyo the last time the games were there (1964) either. Self-quarantining in-country is reasonable. Many national teams have pre-Olympic training camps in country anyway.


Like just about everything, it's probably too soon to tell. As much as I've relied on the factors above in hope that we won't be waiting for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, if there's one thing I've learned from this era is that you never can figure how the situation can find a way to get worse.

I'd watch some more baseball games in the interim but it appears those guys are proving my point.

Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
What To Read Next
Get Local