It’s Opening Day! Baseball is back!
So why I am not more excited?
This is what I live for every off-season; every time I walk out into a howling, frigid wind in the depths of January and trudge through the snow, the only thought that keeps me going is baseball, the greatest game ever devised by the human mind, a thing of beauty, a perfectly choreographed show played out on bright green, manicured grass.
It comes every spring.
But not this spring.
Friday night, at Great American Ball Park, a bandbox-sized gem of a ballpark where balls fly out of the field of play and into the seats with regularity, the Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers will meet in the first game of a truncated season long delayed by a bitter and ugly dispute between labor and management.
There will be only 60 games in this 2020 season, which will be followed by playoffs that will result in some team – our beloved Reds, perhaps? – being crowned the World Series champions.
The team that earns that honor will probably end up with an asterisk in the record books (I have a feeling asterisks are going to be as plentiful as sunflower seeds this year). A normal Major League Baseball season is 162 games long. This one, of course, will be 60 games, which would be like starting the season in late March and wrapping it up by the end of May.
But it is baseball; it is back; and I love it. Even though I likely will not be able to attend a single one of them because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rules against large crowds of people being packed together shoulder-to-shoulder. Before the season was to start in late March, I had tickets to about 55 games, between the half-season ticket package I share with a buddy of mine and some additional tickets I get from being in a 81-game season ticket pool.
You and I can watch on TV or sit on the porch on warm summer nights and listen to the radio broadcasts. It's a great game for radio; the best radio announcers can create a vivid picture of the action in your head. Marty Brennaman could do that. I'm sure the man who has taken Marty's place, Tommy Thrall, will do the same.
This is going to be such a different experience for baseball fans. As I consider all the changes this shortened season is bringing, I put them in categories: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
Here are a few examples of each:
At least there is a season: A month ago, it seemed that might not be the case. Sixty games are better than no games.
The three-batter rule: This will be the first go-around of the three batter rule, which will prevent managers from, say, bringing in a lefty relief pitcher to face one batter – a left-handed hitter – and head for the showers after facing only one batter. Now, a pitcher brought for a particular situation will have to face at least three batters before being taken out. Good. Cuts down on the constant changing of pitchers, which adds way too much time to games that are too long already.
No spitting: On the field or in the dugout, players won't be allowed to spit – either saliva or their favorite, sunflower seeds. It's a COVID-19 thing, but it’s also just good hygiene. Players are supposed to be wearing masks in the dugout and the clubhouse, although not necessarily on the field. Spitting while wearing a face mask couldn't be a pleasant experience.
Hunter Greene: The young phenom was just out of high school when the Reds took him as their first round draft pick in 2017; and Reds fans have been anxiously awaiting the day when the right-handed starter would be ready for the major leagues ever since. He missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery, but he's come all the way back. His fastball has been clocked at 101 this summer. On Wednesday, Hunter was added to the Reds' 60-man player pool. That by no means guarantees that he will get into a game this season, but it does create the possibility that he will make his major league debut this year. I'd love to see that. Wish I could see it in person.
The team: On paper, this is the best team the Reds have fielded in many years. They have a realistic chance of going all the way. The starting rotation is one of the very best in baseball – Sonny Gray (who starts Friday), Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, Wade Miley. The back end of the bullpen looks solid. And they have a lineup that is strong, one through nine. The addition of free agents Mike Moustakis, Nicholas Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama was proof positive that the Reds management wants to win and win now.
The designated hitter: In this shortened season with expanded roster, National League teams will be using the designated hitter instead of allowing pitchers to hit. I still have enough grumpy old purist left in me to hope that this is only temporary. Not real baseball. Everybody should swing a bat.
Refund policy: Obviously none of the games that were on the original 2020 schedule will ever be played. So the Reds ticket representatives were busy a while back offering refunds to season ticket holders or the option of applying the money to 2021 tickets. And what did the Reds offer as an incentive to hold onto to our money until 2021 and collect interest on it? A 10% concession discount. Which means that a $9 beer would cost only $8.10. Sorry, guys, not good enough.
Bars and restaurants hoping for crowds on Opening Night: Many drinking and dining establishments, especially around The Banks, are hoping the crowds will show up, just like they do on a normal Opening Day. They could use the business. People will go and drink themselves silly while watching the game on TV, just steps away from a ballpark they aren't allowed to enter. Thanks, but no thanks.
New rule for extra innings: MLB, in its infinite wisdom, believes ball games are too long. Extra inning games especially. They are right in some cases. But the solution to me sounds like something you would do to break a tie in a Knothole game. If a game is tied after nine innings, the 10th inning begins with the team at the plate having a runner at second base – scoring position. If that runner scores, the other team gets a chance to start its half of the inning with a man on second. If they don't score, game over. If they tie it, game goes on. Silly.
Piped-in crowd noise: Why bother? The viewers and listeners at home know it is not real. The players know it is not real. Why can't they just let the action on the field create the excitement? Most players will tell you that they really do draw energy from an excited crowd in the stands. Piped-in crowd noise is a lame substitute.
Home Run Fireworks: During the exhibition games Monday and Tuesday, the Reds management was shooting off fireworks when the Reds hit home runs, as they always do. And they hit a whole bunch of homers in those two wins over the Tigers. I know that the players who hit them probably enjoyed it, but, aside from them, who heard the fireworks?
No parade: How can you have a baseball season in Cincinnati without a Findlay Market Parade? Unthinkable.
2021 can't come fast enough, for a variety of reasons.