(CBS Local) — As of this moment, baseball is scheduled to return on July 23. The New York Yankees will play the Washington Nationals, and the San Francisco Giants will play the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of an East Coast-West Coast doubleheader. Four months after MLB’s original opening day, fans and players can finally enjoy some semblance of normalcy.
But don’t look too closely, because the scene will be anything but normal. For one thing, the stadiums will be empty of fans. Anyone who saw highlights of that one Baltimore Orioles-Chicago White Sox game five years ago that was closed to the public remembers how the crack of the bat reverberated through the empty seats and how a home run elicited no reaction. It was a weird feeling.
The muted celebration this season will extend to the players too. High fives, fist bumps and hugs have been outlawed. Fighting and instigating will also be met with severe repercussions. Physical contact will be limited to actions within the game itself. Spitting and finger-licking are also out.
MLB outlined a whole list of rules and guidelines when it formalized its return. Those include significant and specific protocols around COVID-19 testing. The results of that testing — the country remains in the grip of a pandemic, after all — could derail the entire season.
The start of baseball isn’t as close as that July 23rd date on the calendar might suggest. And KPIX 5 sports director Dennis O’Donnell is unsure opening day 2020 will ever arrive. “The question for me is, is baseball is even going to be able to start the season? Today (Tuesday), as we’re taping this interview, the Giants called off practice because of late testing results for COVID-19. The A’s’ first practice, full squad, was Monday night, because they had to wait for test results.”
Admittedly, it’s still spring (summer) training. But these are just two teams on two days of practice. What happens when teams start traveling around the region and playing other teams? What happens when someone tests positive? What about everyone who has been exposed to that person?
Conditions during the pandemic are fluid; questions and answers are ever-changing. “So my concern, as you look across the league and other team sports, it’s not as easy as the PGA (Tour) or NASCAR, individual sports,” said O’Donnell. “Team sports are different. So my concern is, can we get past this? Can baseball actually pull it off…?”
That’s a big question. The hopeful answer is yes. The realistic answer is we don’t know. On Friday, Giants star catcher Buster Posey confirmed he has opted out of playing in 2020. “We’ve seen other players across the baseball landscape express reservations, saying they’re not going to play,” O’Donnell noted. “So the biggest question to me is not July 23, when the Giants go to Dodger Stadium. The bigger question, is there going to be Opening Day on July 23?”