The Boston Red Sox begin the 2019 season with an 11-game road trip out West. Why are they forced to endure such a road-heavy early schedule?
Opening the season on the road is nothing new for the Boston Red Sox yet this year the challenge is a bit steeper than what we’re accustomed to.
Boston kicks off the 2019 schedule with an 11-game road trip that starts in Seattle before moving on to Oakland and wrapping up in Arizona. 11 straight days in three different cities before an off day grants them an opportunity to fly across the country to return home.
We won’t see games played at Fenway Park until April 9 when the Red Sox host the Toronto Blue Jays. They’ll get a mere five games at home before it’s back on the road for five more. That’s 16 of their first 22 games on the road!
Boston will need to be road warriors to begin the season in order to avoid falling into an early hole. Ultimately, everyone plays 81 games at home and 81 on the road, yet the Red Sox would still rather not have to play catch-up. The good news is that they had no trouble traveling last year when they owned an MLB-best 51-30 road record. This team shows no fear of entering enemy territory.
The Red Sox have started the season on the road in 13 of the last 16 years. The last time they held Opening Day at Fenway was 2017 when the Pittsburgh Pirates came to town for a three-game series, the finale of which was postponed due to weather. Boston opened at home against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009, only for Opening Day to be rained out. The New York Yankees visited for three games to begin the 2010 season, although, in fairness, the weather conditions in the Bronx wouldn’t have been any different.
Mother Nature plays a significant part in planning the schedule. There’s a higher risk of weather-related delays at this time of year in New England where April showers are a spring tradition and we still can’t rule out a surprise blizzard. Even if the snow holds off, it’s still cold here in Boston. As I write this article on a sunny afternoon, the temperate sits at a brisk 46 degrees. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for a low point below freezing before eventually warming up as the day progresses.
This isn’t baseball weather! Not only is it more difficult for players to perform in these conditions, but it’s also no picnic for the fans either. I attended last year’s home opener at Fenway when the temperature barely cracked 40 degrees and it felt colder than that with the wind and sprinkling of rain. The game lasted 12 innings, almost as if the baseball gods had issued a challenge to test how long we could endure these conditions. It was all worth it when the Red Sox walked off with a win yet it was far from ideal weather for sitting outside for four hours.
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That’s why the Red Sox are better off starting the season in a warmer climate or in a dome stadium. They can only put off playing at home for so long but visiting a city or two to begin the season buys a bit more time for the warmer weather to settle in.
Three cities and 11 games? If that seems excessive or unusual, you’re not wrong. In the last 100 years, the only team to open a season with 11+ games on the road was when the Minnesota Twins had 12 road games to begin the 1980 season.
The schedule is almost unprecedented yet it makes sense for a number of reasons.
As of last year, the season now opens in late March instead of several days into April. The earlier start was implemented in order to squeeze in the Wild Card games for each league and a few extra off days without the World Series spilling into November. If we’re starting in March, the only choices are risking Boston’s weather concerns in early April or staying on the road longer.
The reason that this long stretch of road games is being pushed to the extreme also has to do with the trip being out West. Boston only travels to Seattle, Oakland, and Arizona once this year so might as well knock them all out now. Their only other travel out West takes them to San Diego, Colorado, and Los Angeles in August. These may be long trips but better to group them into two sets rather than try to break them up more, resulting in more long flights and adjustments to time zone differences.
The Red Sox rarely need to factor in visiting NL West parks, which makes this year more of an outlier. A trip of this length to begin the season isn’t the new norm yet we should expect the Red Sox to be tested on the road early more often than not.