Steve Eighinger

Major League Baseball is back

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 23, 2020 4:30 pm Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 10:20 pm

I'm one happy fella today.

Major League Baseball is back, and even though the season will be truncated, and no fans will be allowed in the stands (at least at the start of the season), it's certainly better than having to wait until next April to see Jack Flaherty, Anthony Rizzo or Francisco Lindor in games that actually matter.

Or, look at it this way in the age of COVID-19, beggars can't be choosers.

Earlier this week, a half dozen of my friends and I gathered for an informal sports roundtable over burgers and soft drinks. One of the main topics of conversation was the return of baseball.

"I don't even care at this point," one buddy said.

"It's just not the same," another added.

Well, I do care. Or rather, I still care.

Outside of marriage, kids and a job I've enjoyed for close to half a century, I'd have to say baseball has always been a cornerstone of my life. And if I can only have 60 games this season, it's still better than none at all.

Regarding my second friend's response, he's correct. It will not be the same. We're used to the 162-game, six-month grind. This year, we'll have two months, and we'll need to make the most of each and every day.

I've thought long and hard about this since MLB announced its short season would not be able to start until late July due to all of the various protocols surrounding the coronavirus. And I think this crazy eight-week sprint to the pennant could wind up being dynamite. Every. Game. Will. Matter.

Granted, the empty stadiums will be unusual and difficult to get used to, but it only took me two or three exhibition games to get used to the canned crowd noise teams are using (for television's sake).

Artificial hype? Certainly.

But it seems to work.

And by the first or second week in August I think we'll be totally used to it and enjoying the games as much as we ever have.

Here are some other random thoughts heading into the first full weekend of the season:

The good: Both the American and National leagues will be using the designated hitter. National League pitchers hit .131 last year. Yawnnnn.

"Unless you like sacrifice bunts and strikeouts, that's no fun to watch, and I don't want to hear about the complexities of the double switch," writes David Schoenfield of ESPN.com. "It's for only one year — at least for now — but get used to it, NL fans, because it might be here to stay."

The good, part deux: Relievers must now face a minimum of three batters, unless the inning ends. This should keep the flow of the game moving, especially in the late innings.

The bad: Rosters will start at 30 players before eventually being cut down to 26. My gut feeling is that 30 number should be maintained over the full two months, simply to allow teams more flexibility with pitching staffs and helping prevent at least some of the anticipated injuries regarding pitchers.

The ugly: Extra innings will begin with a runner on second base, although this concept will not be used in the postseason. Maybe I'll become a fan as the July/August schedule unfolds, but at this moment in time my sentiment is "let the kids play." Even if it takes all night. Heck, we've waited almost four months for the season to start, so I don't think too many fans will mind a few extra innings.