New York Yankee skipper, Aaron Boone, has managed to remain safe and healthy throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic. But with the dawn of a new baseball season on the horizon, Boone’s pinstripe army may not be as safe as he once was during the quarantine.
In a significantly shortened season, in which 102 games will be deemed as null and void, new rules and regulations will be enforced, thus giving the game of baseball a new look. The ‘Bronx Bombers’ haven’t won a world title since 2009. With that being said, taking into consideration that the Yankees will be participating in 60 games with just six days off in between, there is a lot of pressure on Boone to lead the franchise to its 28th World Series championship.
With “Spring Training 2.0” set to commence this Saturday [Independence Day] at Yankee Stadium, their 26-man roster is expected to hit the ‘diamond’ running. The novel coronavirus was responsible for shutting Major League Baseball down for the first half of the season [81 games]. Expect the Yankees to use the time leading up to opening day on July 23 against the Washington Nationals [in D.C.] to prepare for the new changes expected to be seen once the season starts.
“We’ve been able to log what our guys have been able to do in quarantine, so I feel like we have a pretty good understanding of where they are. We’ll have to see it with our own eyes, but I feel like most of our guys will be able to face live hitters from jump street and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Boone said during a recent teleconference. “We won’t push anyone to a certain amount right away, we will build them up safely as best we can, to a point where they’re in a good spot to begin the regular season.”
Of the notable changes expected to be observed on the field are that pitchers are required to face a three-batter minimum.
There will be a universal designated hitter rule in place. Although the American League implemented this rule in 1973, pitchers continued to hit in all National League ballparks.
During all regular season extra-inning games, the contest will begin with a runner on second base. This rule only applies for the regular season. Position players will be allowed to pitch.
Under the condition that a game is called due to inclement weather, the game will be continued at a later date from where it last left off.
Any player(s) or manager (s) that violates the social distancing policy on the grounds of either arguing or fighting, will be subjected to an immediate ejection, as well as a suspension and fine.
Lastly, pitchers will be allowed to carry a small wet rag in their back pocket, for the purposes of keeping their pitching hand moist. This practice will replace the old unsanitary method of pitcher’s licking their fingers. However, pitchers are prohibited from utilizing the rag when on the mound. Pitchers will be required to dry their pitching hand before touching the baseball and stepping on the runner mount. But outside of water, there are no other substances that are allowed to be on the rag.
“The bottom line is we’re going to try to make evaluations on an individual basis on where we think guys are physically. You really have to exercise some patience, and make some really good evaluations about the workload players are capable of,” Boone would say regarding the notable changes. “But our goal from the start of the first spring training hasn’t changed. We’re still a very hungry group with unfinished business and we want to climb to the top, but even though circumstances have changed, the goal hasn’t changed.”
Traditionally, the regular season is a 162-game marathon. But with the dynamic drastically changing, the next 60 games can be viewed as a sprint. Will there be enough time for the players, specifically their pitching rotation, which is led by ace Gerrit Cole to fully peak?
“Hopefully it serves us well. Baseball is designed to play 162, but all 30 teams are starting at the same point, and the bottom line is that the goal and focus do not change, but we only have 60 games to go out and prove how good of a club we are,” Boone said. “As much as there’s urgency in a short season, an injury can wipe out a season in a hurry if you’re forcing a guy into more than he’s ready for, so we’ll have to lean on our depth as much as we can.”
As optimistic as Boone is about the upcoming season, his enthusiasm about getting his team back on the field reverberated through the speaker for everyone to hear. However, a humbled Boone acknowledged that there are bigger issues that supersede his love for the game. He expressed that he is elated over the role baseball will play in society’s recovery from the pandemic as well as marching towards racial equality.
“I do think there will be a need to display extra mental toughness. A 162-game season always brings adversity, and you have to be able to navigate the daily ups and downs to be successful, and you can add another layer to that this year,” he said. “This will be challenging on many levels – playing with no fans, dealing with daily protocols, and a new normal you’re not used to. How you deal with that mentally, and how you’re able to separate that out as you take the field there’s an edge to be gained there for the teams that handle that the best. Hopefully we will do a good job of that.”
As for addressing society’s dilemma? Boone is delighted that his players are speaking out against racism. While on the call Boone was heard saying that he encourages his players to be themselves. Although Boone didn’t verbalize it on the call, it appears that he is down with the “Black Lives Matter” cause and movement.
“Our job, when we come back, ultimately is going to be bigger than the game and all of us as well,” he said. “As we’ve seen throughout time, sports can play a role in kind of healing, a diversion, a distraction, a sense of normalcy, all these kinds of things that we have a role in our society to play. We’ll be eager to hopefully go out and do our part, and in our case, the focus will always remain the same of trying to be the best we can be and trying to go out and win another championship for our organization.”