One of the most beautiful things we hear every winter is, “Only 21 days for pitchers and catchers!” It is the one sentence that gives us hope during a rough winter. The thought of playing ball in the park, watching games at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field or just having a catch with your kid, has always made us think of happy days ahead. And thus, as poet Alexander Pope said in “An Essay on Man” in 1732, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
Yet, here we are again a year later, when the reality of having a normal spring that is not going to happen. Players are on their way to spring training sites in Florida and Arizona and MLB has put out the schedule for practice games for these clubs until the regular season begins, but this will not be what we have come to expect every spring. MLB has done a very good job in bringing us their product during these trying times. Being very creative with temporary rule changes and strict protocols that were needed to keep both the people, who are a part of their organizations safe, as well as the limited number of fans allowed into the ballparks during the playoffs last year. Giving fans a chance to see games was then and remains now the biggest challenge as this pandemic rages on.
This year they will limit travel and exposure to the players interacting with each other during the spring training season. They plan on keeping teams from the East coast of Florida on the East coast and the western clubs on the West coast. They will only be playing teams close to where their complexes are located. Arizona is a different story because all the teams are in the Phoenix area. But the one big thing they are still faced with, is the inclusion of fans.
At the games in both the Grapefruit League in Florida and the Cactus League out west, they will allow what they call “Pod seating,” where you can buy 2 seats together, 4 seats together or other combinations of even numbers that will be safely distanced from other fans. There will be no autographs and fans will not be allowed near the back practice fields. Too bad, because that is where you can get up close to the players and watch the young prospects going through drills. The games take about 3 hours but you can spend all day on the back fields. To me it was always the most interesting part of spring training.
Hopefully they can use that plan for seating pods during the regular season. We were told that the press will still be limited to the press box again. No on field, locker room or getting close to the players again. This is something I can deal with. It makes our job more of a challenge but still doable. If we can at least get fans in the ballparks, even on a limited basis, it will give us hope that we are well on our way to better times. The fans need it, the players need it and let’s face it, the owners need it.
Did I just say the owners need it? I keep forgetting that they still have those big TV deals. They are still making money as evidenced by what they have spent this off season with free agents and extensions. I figure Fernando Tatis Jr. should be the next big extension signing. It’s raining money!
Seriously, the baseball world will take some time to get back to where it was pre-pandemic. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that we will see that begin sometime in August or September and then 100% in 2022. It is what it is and I can’t see it happening any sooner.
So set up your favorite comfortable lounge seat in front of your TV and stock up on refreshments because the season is about to begin. And guess what? The Mets and the Yankees are both looking like contenders this year. We haven’t seen that in a while. Hey, you never know. They may meet in the World Series this year……….in Texas.