Sharing The Love Of The Game
By Martin Rogers
To have an Opening Day that began just a few shakes short of August is unlike anything we are accustomed to, naturally.
Yet as balls, strikes, dingers and everything else that makes up the fabric of a national pastime returned, the most important thing wasn’t the change — but the obvious.
“They played baseball here Thursday,” ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote after the first game of what will be a truly unique season. “The Washington Nationals hosted the New York Yankees. The attendance was 0. They threw pitches. Hitters swung at them.
"The game itself, the perfect summertime activity, Americana in the nation’s capital, felt the same, even if nothing really is anymore.”
And collectively, sports fans exulted in that perfection — rain delays and all — as we got to indulge in the game we love.
One of the greatest pieces of sports filmmaking that there has ever been is Ken Burns’ "Baseball," an ode that makes no secret of the iconic documentarian’s adoration of the sport. The theme and tone of that timeless piece is much like a typical regular season. Permanent, enduring, ticking to its own, reassuring pace.
This time, it is a sprint. 267 days since we last saw a baseball hurled across home plate, welcome to the season — and in the blink of an eye, it will be welcome to the playoffs.
FOX begins its broadcast schedule with a quadruple header on Saturday, featuring the Milwaukee Brewers at the Chicago Cubs, the San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Yankees at the Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks at the San Diego Padres.
Just 64 days later, the postseason will be upon us. In a sense, it already is.
“I think you’re going to see more of a playoff-attitude managing, where it’s a little bit more assertive,” Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon told the New York Times. “Probably the best way to describe it is more aggressive decision-making early in the game as opposed to what you would do in the first couple of months of the regular season.”
The season will be short, but boy, won’t it be sweet?
Baseball’s return is so special because its absence stung so sorely. It is the sport that is always there, every day, all summer long — until this time, for the first time, it wasn’t.
But finally, on Thursday night, it was back, as Giancarlo Stanton sounded the triumphant return with an absolute rocket of a home run, the first of many of 2020.
Sure, you’ll probably hear some grumbles about the way baseball has changed, because it is a sport that doesn’t so much embrace its nostalgia as clings it to the chest.
And why not? If you have more than a hundred years of goodness in your locker, it makes sense to use it.
Baseball doesn’t just last, it glides through time. Something about its seeming permanence will always soothe, and we could all use that feeling right now.
Yet it is by necessity that things must look and feel different, and it is in some ways the greatest compliment that you can pay the sport that after all this time, it is still adaptable.
“It’s going to be remembered as the COVID season, one that we’ll have a better understanding of when we look back in 15 or 20 years,” former MVP Christian Yelich of the Brewers told USA TODAY Sports. “The unpredictable is going to happen. Crazy things are going to happen. But you’ve got to embrace the unconventional.’’
Inevitably, some teams, managers and players will do a better job of coping with the differences than others.
FOX Bet has the Yankees and Dodgers listed as co-favorites for World Series glory at +400 after the postseason expansion, but good luck predicting this one. Everyone must contend with the altered rules and try to find ways to turn them to their advantage.
In the National League, the designated hitter is here all season long. In the playoffs, there will be a whopping 16 teams. In extra inning games, each team will start with a runner on second base, as we first saw on Friday — when Opening Day came to a spectacular close on a grand slam:
At FOX, we're adapting, too. We can’t teleport fans into the seats, but there has been a concerted effort to enhance the viewing experience with digital crowds used to create a more natural feel for those at home.
Baseball can’t do anything about the realities of 2020 and everything the coronavirus has brought, of course. But it is summer, and the soundtrack of the season — baseball — is playing.
Its return restores some normalcy, even if just a bit. The days finally feel longer. The air is sweeter. We sports fans have a little more to look forward to, all because baseball exists.
This year will be a scramble to the finish line, a tussle between big spending powers and plucky, creative teams that see this as a golden chance to shake things up. It will be wild and emotional. It will infuriate and enthrall.
Most importantly of all, it will be ours once more. Let's enjoy it together, shall we?