“Tell us when and where.”
A phrase said and tweeted by so many players that serves as the perfect mantra for the upcoming season.
After much uncertainty and countless hours of failed negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA, commissioner Rob Manfred did indeed tell players when and where by implementing his own season parameters: a 60-game schedule, which is less than half of a regular 162-game season.
The constant back and forth between the two sides was a bad look for baseball, but now everyone can look towards the actual gameplay to reignite the love and passion of the game that has been lost for months.
Because of the abrupt cancellation of spring training, many teams have had to adapt in preparation for the season. They have returned to their home stadiums for a summer camp where teams can workout, practice, and have intersquad games, which are often broadcast live for fans.
Now, Opening Day has finally taken place on July 23rd. Even though it was something that should have happened back in March, baseball fans and purists will take anything that they can get as it is better than no baseball at all.
But, what will the season actually look like?
For starters, the biggest stipulation is that games will be played with no fans in attendance. This will remain until there is at least some progress in containing COVID-19 in states at which point fans will come at a limited capacity.
If fans are somehow able to come to games, it won’t be anytime soon. Teams have already started pumping artificial crowd noise during their intersquad games, which could be something that will carry over to the real season.
There are also many new on-field features that will be a new part of the game. For the first time in MLB history, there will be a designated hitter for all National League games. If all goes well with this new rule, it could become a permanent feature as many people have advocated for it for years.
Another new rule that has caused some controversy is that extra-innings will begin with a runner on second. The sport will definitely see new strategies when it comes to games going past the ninth inning, but will it be too predictable?
Many experts think teams on the offense will try to sacrifice bunt the runner over to third base and then score him with a sacrifice fly. Pitchers in the field would be more likely to intentionally walk the first batter of the inning to later induce a double play. This is something that could get very repetitive, and fans could be sick of seeing this over and over. College baseball already uses this extra-inning format, but only time will tell how it translates to the pro game.
One major change that was finalized just before the Yankees vs Nationals game kicked off was the addition of an expanded playoff field, going from 10 teams to 16. This new playoff format guarantees a postseason spot to every division winner and runner-up, as well the two teams with the next best records in each league, respectively.
The league has also implemented many safety protocols to sustain health across the league. Many of these are encouraging the practice of social distancing when possible as well as prohibiting spitting on the field or in the dugout. Overall, these are simple tasks that amount to a safer game in hopes of finishing the season without any more hiccups.
Clearly this season will be unlike any other, but, at the end of the day, baseball will be the first of the four major U.S. pro sports to return since the whole world shut down. Hopefully, the other major sports leagues have a successful relaunch as well to get their players and fans back to normalcy.
One piece of advice: please keep an open mind when watching these games. Yes, it may feel different, but this is an exciting time for sports and you’re not going to want to miss it. Stay safe and play ball!