March 04, 2021
Major League Baseball spring training camps got underway across Florida and Arizona earlier this month. MLB was unable to convince the MLBPA to agree to a delayed 154-game season and an expanded postseason, so spring training and the regular season will begin as scheduled. February 17th was the first reporting date for pitchers and catchers for many teams, and most players were in camp by the 25th. Sunday marked the beginning of pre-season games (Royals are 3-1 so far) and April 1st is opening day. Many of the restrictions that went in place during 2020 will continue during 2021, but there are notable differences. This includes allowing fans.
The 2021 season will look a lot like 2020, except the plan for a full 162 games. Doubleheaders will again be two seven-inning games. Each offense will get a runner on second to start every extra inning. There will not be a universal designated hitter as the Players Association and the League could not come to an agreement (yet?). The playoff field will feature five teams per league, which will be the three division winners and two wild cards, with a one-game play-in between the Wild Card teams, for each league. There was a decision to deaden the ball this season. By loosening the initial wind of the ball, it dropped the weight slightly during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. In 2019, MLB teams swatted a record-smashing 6,776 home runs, compared to the 30 clubs combined total of 4,186 home runs in 2014. Major League Baseball owns Rawlings, and Rawlings hand makes every baseball used, to “create consistency.” Sounds like “monopoly” to me.
On Sunday fans streamed into the stands at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, and watched the Nationals play their Grapefruit League opener against the Cardinals. The stands had green tarps pulled tightly over most seats and masks were worn by most. The crowd swelled to around 1,500 fans, or about 21 percent of capacity. Fans and players alike were happy to have live fans. Nationals starter Erick Fedde was quoted, “There was a little more buzz when you walk out to the field and start playing catch and getting into the bullpen. It was fun. It reminded me of older times.” All 30 major league teams will allow fans to attend spring training games in accordance with local coronavirus ordinances. All will employ a pod setup, with physical distance built in between occupied pods of seats. Masks will be required for attendance. If the opener is any indication, this restriction will be obeyed “by most.”
Thoughts: On Friday Arkansas’ Governor joined most states in lifting most safety restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The mask mandate will remain in place until at least the end of March. As of today, there are nearly 9 million active cases in the US and just under 532,000 deaths. The CDC warns that new variants and a plateau in cases make this a critic al time to maintain strict guidelines to ensure the trend continues. Many only heard what they wanted to believe as businesses opened and masks became optional. The restrictions that allowed the number of hospitalizations and deaths to go down are being abandoned across the US as the nation clamors for the “right” to go back to business as usual. While they may not be as fun, obeying the restrictions will save lives. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.