Major League Baseball made another stride towards normalcy amid the pandemic on Thursday, as masked and socially distanced fans around the country
Major League Baseball made another stride towards normalcy amid the pandemic on Thursday, as masked and socially distanced fans around the country returned to the ballpark for Opening Day after many were barred from stadiums over COVID-19 concerns during the condensed 2020 regular season.
The Nationals, unfortunately, were quickly reminded that the pandemic is still far from over as their home opener against the visiting New York Mets was postponed after one Washington player tested positive for COVID-19.
Only one club, the Texas Rangers, plans on hosting a full crowd for its home opener, which is scheduled for Monday, and the club will resume distancing measures for following games.
However, the other 29 MLB teams are still adhering to some degree of safety precautions, which is already making things difficult at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. On Thursday, many Yankees fans had tickets invalidated because Ticketmaster’s website did not reflect the ballpark’s limited seating capacity at the time of the purchases.
‘To begin the season, attendance for select games will be limited to approximately 20 percent of the capacity of Yankee Stadium,’ read an email from Ticketmaster to fans who bought tickets through the website. ‘Because you purchased tickets to a game that is now designated as a Limited Capacity Game, your previously purchased tickets are no longer valid.’
Those fans will be allowed to apply for a refund, but they didn’t get to see the Bronx Bombers’ opener against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays.
Fans return to the stadium for the the first time since the 2019 season due to Covid-19 to see the opening day game between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays
Fans are in attendance for a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Minnesota Twins on Opening Day
Spectators wait on a security line outside Yankee Stadium before an opening day baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. Fans are back at the ballpark in limited numbers after they were shut out completely during the regular season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic
There were still plenty of reasons to celebrate on Thursday, especially in the Bronx, where a fan named Vanessa Williams (left) proposed to her girlfriend, Megan Coombs (right), who said ‘yes’ outside Yankee Stadium
Fans gather at the main entrance in a snow flurry before the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians
There were still plenty of reasons to celebrate on Thursday, especially in the Bronx, where a fan named Vanessa Williams proposed to her girlfriend, Megan Coombs, who said ‘yes’ outside Yankee Stadium.
Furthermore, MLB and its teams said they will distribute $1.5 million in free tickets this regular season to essential workers of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The tickets will go to doctors, nurses and other hospital staff; police, firefighters, public safety personnel and corrections workers; teachers, daycare personnel and support staff; public transit workers; grocery store and delivery workers; food and agriculture workers; and construction and manufacturing workers.
Such tickets will be divided evenly among the 30 teams, and each club will select recipients, games and seat locations.
Although President Joe Biden did not take part in a ceremonial first pitch, as others who have held his office have, he did weigh in on the Rangers’ decision to host a full crowd on Monday, calling the move a ‘mistake.’
‘Well, that’s a decision they made. I think it’s a mistake,’ Biden told ESPN. ‘They should listen to Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, the scientists and the experts. But I think it’s not responsible.’
Although they’re stopping short of full capacity, the Atlanta Braves will expand capacity at Truist Park to 50 percent for their second homestand beginning April 23 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Braves are permitting 33 percent capacity at their initial homestand to allow for ample social distancing, limiting the crowd to about 13,500. Those standards will be in place for the first seven home games, beginning with the April 9 opener against the Phillies.
The capacity will increase to 50 percent, or roughly 20,500, for at least the ensuing seven home games. The Braves have said they will review their seating policies before each homestand.
The Braves’ capacity will be among the highest in the big leagues. They will join Houston at 50%, which is only surpassed by the Rangers’ plans to allow full capacity at the start of the season. (Texas will create distanced seating for future games)
MLB is encouraging everyone involved with the sport to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. A three-page memorandum from MLB and the players’ association sent to players and staff on Monday says some restrictions will be eliminated when 85 percent of major league players and primary field staff are vaccinated against the coronavirus.
However, MLB isn’t requiring the vaccine for players or staff.
Speaking on the eve of opening day, Biden also said he supports discussions between MLB and the players’ union on moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta over concern about legislation adopted in Georgia restricting voting rights.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark also are discussing the possibility of moving the All-Star Game because of the legislation adopted in Georgia restricting voting rights. Manfred said Wednesday he is talking to ‘various constituencies within the game’ about the issue.
Georgia’s new law adds a photo ID requirement for voting absentee by mail, cuts the amount of time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed. It also bans people from handing out food or water to voters waiting in line and allows the Republican-controlled State Election Board to remove and replace county election officials while curtailing the power of the secretary of state as Georgia’s chief elections officer.
Clark told The Boston Globe last week that he ‘would look forward’ to discussions around moving the Midsummer Classic out of Truist Park, and Biden said he would ‘strongly support’ such a decision.
‘People look to them,’ Biden said, referring to professional athletes. ‘They’re leaders. Look at what happened with the NBA, as well. Look what’s happened across the board. The very people who were victimized the most are the people who are the leaders in these various sports, and it’s just not right. This is Jim Crow on steroids what they’re doing in Georgia and 40 other states.’
Boosted by signing NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, the pitching-rich Los Angeles Dodgers start in Colorado, trying to become the first repeat champions since the New York Yankees in 1998-2000.
Kershaw gets the opener against the Rockies, while Bauer goes in the second game.
‘I’m pumped up for it. Especially pumped up to get back in front of the LA fans for my first home start,’ Bauer said.
‘This is going to be cool, putting on the Dodger uniform, playing with this group of guys. I’m really pumped up that baseball is back, especially now that we get to have fans in the stands,’ he said.
How many will actually be in the box seats and bleachers on April Fools’ Day might depend on the weather, which has already postponed the Boston Red Sox opener against the visiting Baltimore Orioles.
Some of the experiments that debuted last season are back: seven-inning doubleheaders, automatic runners at second base to start extra innings. The expanded playoff field is back to 10 teams, down from 16. And the designated hitter in the National League is gone. That means pitchers who usually flail away will try to make contact after a year layoff. The DH could become permanent in the NL next season. In the meantime, those pitchers could get help on the mound as MLB is trying out a slightly deadened baseball that supposedly doesn’t fly quite so far.
Other interesting developments in 2021 include the debut of Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng – the first woman to hold that title in MLB history.
‘Failure is not an option for me,’ the 52-year-old Ng said.
Meawnwhile the Blue Jays will return to Canada after being forced out last season due to travel restrictions and playing in nearby Buffalo, New York.
Unfortunately several big stars are missing to start 2021, including White Sox slugger Eloy Jiménez, Toronto newcomer George Springer, Rays reliever Nick Anderson and 2020 home run champ Luke Voit, who all got injured during spring training.
Aces Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard and Mike Clevinger are recovering from major surgery. Robinson Canó is serving a season-long drug suspension and Masahiro Tanaka went home to pitch in Japan. Nick Markakis, Alex Gordon, Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy and Dustin Pedroia retired and Ryan Braun says he’s leaning that way.