Today certainly will be an MLB Opening Day unlike no other, simply because there is no real Opening Day on the field thanks to COVID-19.
While other sports “openers” have their degree of fanfare, nothing in North America comes close to the goodwill and anticipation tied to baseball every spring. It lifts the spirit and the mind, and reminds us that better weather and comaraderie are just around the corner.
So without that option today, but still looking to ways baseball can lift, distract and engage this week, we came up with some options.
There is a dearth of quality learning opportunities for young people as they try and get through the days in an online environment, so Major League Baseball and their partner EverFi, announced a great new option that could have legs beyond just the cessation of games.
“Summer Slugger” is a digital education platform originally created to address summer learning loss during vacation months. Summer Slugger is a free baseball-themed and gamified education course focusing on math and literacy skills. Since the program’s launch in June 2017, MLB clubs have introduced more than 140,000 young people in the U.S. and Canada, ages 8-11, to the program, with thousands more accessing the platform at home.
“One constant that remains unchanged amid the current evolving situation is our commitment to promoting student academic achievement and positive outcomes,” said Melanie LeGrande, VP, Social Responsibility, MLB. “MLB and our clubs are proud to assist the millions of parents and school teachers in helping our young people succeed during these challenging circumstances.”
Summer Slugger contains 36 series (each designed to take no longer than 10 minutes to complete) which cover the following educational topics: units of measure, place value, arithmetic, geometry, spelling, phonemic awareness, vocabulary and comprehension.
This is an area–online education through sport–that needs more attention. Thus far, MLB and The Drone Racing League (see our Mar 23 TMR Insider story “More Than Fun & Games: Sports Industry Learning from Simulations & Distruption) seem to be the only ones looking to engage and help in such an important area.
MLB Network announced this week that they will run classic Opening Day match-ups across all their platforms today, while any number of regional networks will do the same. It certainly won’t be the same, but it will give people a little bit more of a feel for the game.
The best, and most creative option not just for Opening Day but for the coming months, comes from an old standby: Strat-O-Matic.
The “original fantasy sports game” company is doing a recreation of the entire season starting on Opening Day, and will be releasing the results every day at 2pm (EDT). And you can also play your own versions of the game, in just minutes or with great detail, but online and with the classic card game. The idea has gotten a great deal of play and should continue to gain steam for baseball fans of all ages.
“The response to the idea has been unprecedented in the history of our company, and we are excited to be able to give fans of every age a fun and detailed daily distraction during these challenging times, one which will also be as close to real as anyone can get,” said Hal Richman, Strat-O-Matic founder. “We hope that out of all the disruption comes a good amount of joy for fans starting on opening day and going through the entire disruption, as people connect to baseball, albeit in a little bit of an unconventional way.”
MLB also released a new version of “MLB The Show” this week for those wanting more of a video game feel. It is not as realistic as Strat, but it is fun as well.
Then there is Topps. You can not only collect cards you can order the traditional way, but there is also the ever growing digital offerings the iconic company offers up.
The latest twist? “Project 2020,” a first of its kind effort that combines some of the most iconic cross-generational cards in the company’s nearly 70 year history with baseball, re-imagined by some of the world’s most influential, creative and eclectic artists, cartooners and pop culture influencers.
Some of the notable artists on the list include celebrity jewelry designer Ben Yang…a.k.a. Ben Baller; Chicago based designed Just Don, who has worked with Kanye West and Nike on major projects; Mexican-American tattoo and graffiti artist Mark Machado, known as Mister Cartoon; Australian Tyson Beck, whose recent redesign of the NBA logo in the image of Kobe Bryant became an international cause célèbre; N.Y. native and design artist Sophia Chang; and L.A. Based streetwear artist Joshua Vides.
Each of the 20 artists will reinterpret 20 cards, representing baseball’s greatest stars from the 1950s to the present day. The cards will only be available for a 48-hour period from the time each is introduced.
So STOKED to be working with @Topps on a limited edition set of 20 iconic cards! Each card will be sold for only 24 hours!@garyvee don't sleep on this! I will sign as many of them as you want. ✍🏼#tradingcards pic.twitter.com/vMoUQ5Cln1
— Blake Jamieson (@blakejamieson) March 25, 2020
“When we think of the collectible world and where it has evolved today, sports and pop culture continue to collide,” said Jeff Heckman, Global Director, Ecommerce, Topps. “We could not think of a better way to expose trading cards to a new audience than working to reinvent some of the classic baseball cards and personalities of the game of baseball through the eyes and hands of many of the world’s greatest pop culture figures of today. ‘Project 2020’ will be a must have for core and casual baseball fans, and will more importantly showcase the names and stories of the artists and the players on the cards to a global audience whose interests lie well beyond the sport. It is a transformative move we are very excited about.”
Now of course none of this will replace the smell of the grass, or the taste (or price) of a frosty, cold adult beverage sitting in the bleachers. But they do provide some traditional, and non traditional, ways to embrace the game on what would have been a grand start.