Getting ready for 2021 Major League Baseball season: adjustments related to the COVID-19 pandemic
Spring is in the air, and the desire for a return to normalcy is potent after a year of isolation, fear and social deprivation. Baseball has been a huge part of the American experience for more than a century, so the return of our national pastime is a great place to start on our journey back from despair. As stated in an old Chevrolet ad campaign, “Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet; they go together in the good old USA!” For those Brandeisians who love baseball, here I present a summary of what to expect this upcoming Major League Baseball season.
Last season, the limited schedule consisted of 60 games. This season, teams will all play a full 162 game schedule. Opening Day for all teams will occur on Thursday, April 1 and the regular season will conclude on Sunday, Oct. 3. The All-Star Game will be played on July 13 at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, a fitting location given the recent passing of baseball legend Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron, a longtime player for the Braves. The playoff schedule is being negotiated between the league and the MLB Players’ Association. Whether the league should return to the traditional 10-team format or reprise the 16-team format used in 2020 has not been determined yet, according to a Feb. 2021 AS article.
Last season, no fans were admitted to regular season games, and were only allowed to attend the National League Championship Series and the World Series, held in Arlington, Texas. This season, limited attendance will be permitted, though the number of fans allowed will depend on state and local health guidelines. In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker approved the opening of Fenway Park and other large venues of more than 5,000 capacity to 12% of normal capacity. This means that 4,000 fans can attend a Red Sox game, barring further loosening of COVID-19 restrictions. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that both the Mets’ and Yankees’ facilities (Citi Field and Yankee Stadium) can host fans at 10% of their usual capacity. Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals will be the only team without fans on Opening Day, according to a March 2021 USA Today article.
Rule changes for 2021:
Whereas the designated hitter (present in the American League, but not the National League, since the 1970s) was used in both leagues in 2020, the DH will be used only in the American League during the 2021 season. This restriction to the American League may change, depending on the negotiations between the League and the Union. For now, in interleague games, the DH will hit in American League stadiums and the pitcher will hit in National League stadiums, as before the pandemic.
In order to shorten the duration of time at the ballpark, two rule changes implemented in 2020 will continue in 2021. Double-header games will be shortened to seven innings, and a runner will be placed at second base at the start of each half-inning in extra-inning games, according to a March 2021 MLB article.
Predictions are often fraught with error, and as legendary basketball coach Adolph Rupp said, ‘That’s why we play the game to see who’ll win.” Still, it is fun for fans to review experts’ predictions for their favorite teams. USA Today gathered a six-person panel to predict the 2021 season, according to a Feb. 2021 article. Brandeisians from the tri-state area will be excited to find that the Yankees are once again picked to top the American League East, with the Red Sox expected to be a solid .500 team (cheer up New Englanders, perhaps your parents told you about the 2004 ALCS, the historic Yankee choke and the Red Sox comeback). Experts predict the Chicago White Sox to win the AL Central and the Houston Astros to win the AL West. In the National League, the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers are expected to win their divisions.
In summary, as the snow recedes, the flowers bloom and the leaves return to the trees, we can begin to look forward to the return of baseball. Perhaps this is one aspect of our lives that will begin to give us a feeling that we are returning to life as we knew it before the pandemic. As for me, I’m heading over to Hannaford for some peanuts and crackerjacks.