Sam Schneider | May 5th, 2020
“Wel- uh um ttoo Ope ing-ing Day-ay ah twennnnnty-tee bayayseball eason!”.
More iconic words have probably never been spoken in the history of Major League Baseball. Even with less-than-stellar Wi-Fi, the announcer (sitting on his deck near the coast of South Carolina) is ushering in the first game of a season. It was delayed by a world pandemic and still with many restrictions in place. He is watching the same feed as you and me. Coming to us from a solitary camera perched in the stands. It is roughly seventy-five feet behind home plate and elevated for a full view of the field.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” before the game was inspirational. Several talented representatives from the hospital front lines were selected to sing the anthem for their tremendous service to the country. It was a bit hard to understand through the masks, but we all know the words and sang along at home although the pre-recorded musical accompaniment of Jimi Hendrix proved to be an odd choice. That said, having faced plenty of adversity in the past this group of Covid19 respondents came through valiantly and were thanked with gift cards from Postmates.
“PLAY BALL (ball… ball… ball)” bellowed the umpire. He would be calling the balls and strikes from his veritable throne also known as section 314, seat A1 in the club level. Normally this would be a pretty cushy gig, but he is clutching a ham sandwich and a bag of chips brought from home since there are not any concessions available on this day. There are no other officials on the field so as not to intensify the possibility of infection. There is no instant replay either; phones and headsets are a no-no and frankly, calling New York would not be an option anyway as they have bigger fish to fry.
With each base sufficiently sanitized by the hazmat suit-wearing grounds crew of four, the game would be set to begin and the team at-bat assumed their positions in the first and fifth rows, sitting with multiple seats between them. Most of the pitchers are in the outfield bleachers, save for one tossing in the bullpen and one on the neighboring practice field roughly five minutes from the stadium. The organist (sitting in a glass box) bangs out a few rousing notes that fall upon the ears of no one as the stands are empty. However, the people at home can hear it and after da-da-daduh-dudah is played they respond with a hearty “CHARGE!” from their living room couches. Baseball is back!
The game quickly made history. Umpire 314-A1 tosses out the first baseman of the home team and the star left fielder of the visiting team in the first inning for being too close together on a putout. This enraged both managers, who came out in their team-colored hoop skirts (to encourage social distancing) and hollered up to the club level. After some deliberation (ump was amid a particularly tough level of Candy Crush) it was decided that “kickball rules” would be instituted. In order to encourage the six-foot order, a player would have to hurl the ball at them as they run the basepaths, and hitting them would result in an out.
This proved unwise. The very next play, the second baseman (who was an odd shade of yellow because he had to swallow his chewing tobacco because spitting is not allowed in 2020) slapped a grounder to third. It was fielded clean, but the ball ended up in the stands above the first base dugout and rattled there like a disk in a game of Plinko. With the new rule intact, ump 314 awarded a home run, much to the dismay of fans around the nation who were watching on phones and tablets from their bathrooms. The second baseman, who had never homered in the majors received a bevy of “air-fives” afterward.
The game was a madhouse after that. By the ninth inning, the score stood at 89-88 in favor of the visitors. In total, twenty-six players had been ejected for various reasons… the middle infield of the visiting team had been decimated since the double-play duo were tossed for standing too close together during a shift and their replacements suffered the same fate on the following play. The pitchers were exhausted as U-314 called everything a ball and all that they could do was toss meatballs and allow the opposing team to tee off. On home runs, players did not even circle the bases and the announcer had fallen asleep next to his dog during the fourth inning.
Players were exhausted by the time the right fielder of the home team stepped to the plate after a long ride from the on-deck circle in the parking structure. He had three virtual men on base, trailing by a run. The bullpen catcher-turned-pitcher (no restrictions in the Covid19 era of baseball) was clearly terrified. The right fielder had always been a known steroid user but had been supplementing with an outrageous amount of Clorox injections to guard against the virus and because of the distancing there were no drug tests available. He was a behemoth in the guise of a baseball player. The announcer awoke. Fans across the country rose from bed after a good night’s sleep to find that the game was in its 18th hour.
As mound visits were not allowed during the pandemic, the bat boy-turned-catcher stepped aside from his post eight feet behind the batter and shouted some instructions to the pitcher while holding a glove over his face. The pitcher shook him off or… no, maybe he just could not hear him? The catcher took down the glove and screamed “FASTBALL UP” which received a nod of approval from the pitcher.
I think you know how the rest of the story goes. The ball has not landed yet. Our mask-laden heroes doused the right fielder in hand sanitizer from a safe distance. Rob Manfred and the brain trust of MLB went back to the drawing board (via Zoom) to figure out a better way to handle it.
But hey, for twenty hours there was baseball. That’s way better than nothing.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images