Old faces in new places, fans in stands and rule changes
Good to see you, Buster Posey. Been a while, Tony La Russa. Good luck Madison Bumgarner and any other National League pitcher who hits a bat.
From Comerica Park to Coors Field to the Coliseum, Major League Baseball will roll out a large welcome mat on Thursday.
Especially on this opening day, it will be for the fans.
If Gerrit Cole – depending on the weather – throws first place of the season, almost 11,000 people could be in the stands at Yankee Stadium. They sit in socially distant seats and wear masks in a park that will continue to act as a mass vaccination center for coronavirus.
Far from being normal. But after a year in which fans were no longer allowed to play regular season games due to COVID-19 protocols, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” will no longer echo strangely in empty stadiums during the seventh inning stretch.
“That’s the way it should be, I think,” said Bumgarner, ready for the Arizona Diamondbacks against Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres.
“That’s exactly what we’re doing. It’s an entertainment business. We all play a game and we compete against each other and everyone has their team to draw for or just enjoy watching the game in general, ”he said.
The crowd sizes vary.
Fenway Park, where Xander Bogaerts and the Boston Red Sox host Baltimore, allow 12% capacity. A full 100% is allowed at Globe Life Field in Texas, where the Rangers open on Monday.
The Rangers had no fans at their $ 1.2 billion palace, which opened last year during the 60-game season shortened by the pandemic. But 11,000 spectators were in the park in Arlington, Texas when Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated Tampa Bay in MLB’s first neutral World Series.
Strengthened by the signing of the NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, the pitching-rich Dodgers start in Colorado. Kershaw gets the start against the Rockies, while Bauer goes in the second game.
“I’m pumped up for it. Especially pumped up to be able to stand in front of the LA fans on my first home start, ”said Bauer.
“It’ll be cool when you put on the Dodger uniform and play with this group of guys. I’m really excited that baseball is back, especially now that we have fans in the stands, ”he said.
How many will actually sit in the box seats and grandstands on April Fools’ Day may depend on the weather.
Rain is forecast in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Also wet in Washington, where a marquee matchup is waiting in Nationals Park: the two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom from the Mets meets Juan Soto and the three-time Cy champion Max Scherzer on the hill.
Temperatures are said to be in the 30s with gusty winds at Wrigley Field when Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs host Pittsburgh. Also in the 1930s in Detroit, where Cleveland ace Shane Bieber takes on the Tigers, and in Cincinnati, where the Reds take on newcomer Nolan Arenado from St. Louis.
Jack Flaherty pitches for the Cardinals. Two teammates from his Southern California high school a decade ago are also starting on opening day – Max Fried for the Braves in Philadelphia and Lucas Giolito for the Chicago White Sox against Mike Trout and rejuvenated two-way star Shohei Ohtani at Angel Stadium.
Arenado and Bauer are among the many stars who changed teams in the off-season. The Padres bought Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, the Mets traded for Francisco Lindor, Toronto signed George Springer and the Yankees hope low risk moves will pay off for Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon.
Some teams will benefit from having their own players back on the field.
Posey of the Giants, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nats, David Price of the Dodgers and Marcus Stroman of the Mets were among those who decided against gambling last year due to coronavirus issues.
As a six-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion, Posey liked what he saw in spring practice.
“When we were watching the games on TV last year and only saw cardboard fans in the stands, it was definitely nice to see some people alive out there,” he said.
A stranger sight: La Russa, 76 years old and already in the Hall of Fame, is returning to administer the fortified White Sox. His last time in the undergrowth was in 2011, when he won the World Series Game 7 for the Cardinals.
Alex Cora, who led Boston to the 2018 crown, returns to the Red Sox while AJ Hinch takes over the Tigers. Both managers were suspended last year for their roles in the 2017 Astros sign theft scandal.
Also about the bases:
THE GROUND RULES
Some of the experiments that debuted last season are back: double headers with seven innings, automatic runners on the second base to start additional innings. The expanded playoff field has returned from 16 to 10 teams. And the designated batsman in the National League has disappeared. This means that pitchers who normally hit the ground try to contact after a year-long layoff. The DH could become permanent in the NL next season. In the meantime, those pitchers could get help on the mound as MLB tries out a slightly muffled baseball that supposedly doesn’t go quite that far.
Kim Ng, who was highly qualified, finally got her chance and starts the season with the Miami Marlins as the first female general manager of MLB. “Failure is not an option for me,” said Ng, 52. … The Toronto Blue Jays, expelled from Canada by the virus, will play their home opener on April 8th at their spring training field in Dunedin, Florida. Around 1,275 fans are admitted to the TD Ballpark with 8,500 seats.
White Sox bat Eloy Jiménez, Rays reliever Nick Anderson and 2020 home run champion Luke Voit were injured during spring training. Aces Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard and Mike Clevinger are recovering from major surgery. Robinson Canó is serving a seasonal drug suspension and Masahiro Tanaka went home to pitch in Japan. Nick Markakis, Alex Gordon, Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy, and Dustin Pedroia have retired, and Ryan Braun says he leans that way.