It’s almost time to play ball for Major League Baseball, as the American and National leagues are poised to embark on what promises to be the strangest season in the game’s long and storied history.
The regular season finally gets underway on Thursday with the New York Yankees against the defending world champion Washington Nationals, and the Los Angeles Dodgers versus the San Francisco Giants. Both games will be televised on ESPN, although the Yankees-Nationals game faces a possible rainout.
What can fans expect? Well, first, they can’t expect to watch the games in person. MLB has forbidden in-person attendance, and has set up mock fan cutouts in the stands to provide a visual. Some teams may even pump in crowd noise to simulate the real deal. That leaves players to be largely self-motivated in an atmosphere that will resemble the intensity of a Florida B-team game in early February more than the regular season.
There’s also a notable cutback in games. Players will stay in their regions to avoid long travel, and many will go by train rather than plane. There’s talk of expanding the playoffs to 16 teams, the better to give fans a rooting interest in the short, 60-game season. As such, a five-game losing streak could spell disaster, so each game will have added stakes.
Politics will also play a larger role than ever. MLB announced today that players can add Black Lives Matter and social justice patches to their uniforms if they so choose. And it’s likely that more players than ever before will kneel during the national anthem.
Already, San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, Giants coach Antoan Richardson and outfielder Jaylin Davis, Angels pitcher Kenyan Middleton, and several Reds players, including All-Star Joey Votto, have taken a knee during the anthem.
Also – there will be no home games for the Toronto Blue Jays. The Canadian government has banned them from home games, fearful that the constant border excursions by foreigners will break a relatively healthy country’s protocols.
For now, the rules still call for three strikes and four balls, nine men on the field, and wooden bats and three bases. But it’s clear that a lot of what traditionalists valued about the game is subject to change in the future. For now, it’s batter up.
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