Baseball is back
In a year unlike any we have ever experienced, it’s appropriate that professional sports are restarting their seasons in ways that have we have never seen.
Some sports already have resumed action — NASCAR and IndyCar have, for instance, already have raced. The PGA and LPGA each have held several events. Boxers have returned to the ring, mixed martial artists have stepped back into the octagon and soccer play has resumed. All but a handful of these events have happened with no spectators, but each sport has been been able to demonstrate that by following strict protocols, competition can resume.
This week we are seeing another big step for professional sports — it marks the start of Spring 2.0 as Major League Baseball teams resume training camps that were abruptly ended in March as concerns about COVID-19 spread.
There will be some differences, though. For the Pirates, that means training camp will be held at PNC Park in Pittsburgh instead of the team’s complex in Bradenton, Fla. First-year manager Derek Shelton and his staff will go back to work, making sure their players are ready for the new opening day, which will come near the end of the month. While Shelton is new to fans in the Tri-State Area, he has solid baseball credentials, having spent the last two seasons as the bench coach of the Minnesota Twins and 15 years coaching at the Major League level, including stops in Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
Much will be different when this year’s season finally begins. It will last just 60 games, the designated hitter will be used in the National and American leagues and extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.
While baseball is gearing up to open its season, hockey and basketball are making plans to resume their seasons. Unlike baseball, which will have true home and away games, hockey and basketball will play the remainder of their seasons in central locations. The National Hockey League is in the process of choosing the two cities it will base its teams in while the National Basketball League will hold the remainder of its games at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
That means that the Penguins will be based in Nevada for their training camp and their games for the remainder of the season.
Like baseball, NHL and NBA games will be made-for-TV events that are played with no fans on site.
The idea is to keep the players and a minimum number of team and league personnel as safe as possible, but all of these plans could change if teams are struck by the coronavirus.
Spring training always has meant something special to baseball fans. It has stood as a clear marker that change was happening, that we were heading out of the long winter season and into the season which stands for hope and the promise of a brighter future. Spring 2.0 in 2020 will come not as winter has started to break, but several weeks into summer. It will have a different feel and will be a different experience for fans and players alike.
What won’t be different, though, will be the sense fans have felt every year in February — there’s something new ahead, a chance to be optimistic, an opportunity to think about what might be. And while those have always been important ideals for those who follow sports, they are thoughts that certainly could make a difference for our society in general.