The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

Major League Baseball games are going to look a little weird for the next couple of months. There won’t be any television shots of fans with “Circle Me Bert” signs, couples kissing, people glued to their cellphones, and ball boys and girls making short-hop snags of foul balls.

Most ballparks, including Target Field, will be empty except for the players. When the games commence this week, the benches will be fuller for a while. Teams will start with 30 players, but 15 days later must drop down to 28.

Scoreboards in Saint Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Chicago’s Wrigley Field will have to be reconfigured to add the abbreviation DH, no longer an exclusive of the American League. (Fans in Milwaukee, a former member of the junior circuit, will quickly recall the days when Gorman Thomas, among others, served as the designated hitter.)

Unless they get the last out of an inning, relief pitchers can no longer come in to face just one batter. Thus, Twins fans may have to grit their teeth as Taylor Rogers and Devin Smeltzer try their luck at getting right-hand hitters out.

Umpiring will be done with little dissent. A player or manager who comes within six feet of an umpire will be subject to ejection or worse. Sanitation will reign supreme. Spitting is now verboten in big league parks. So is a pitcher licking his fingers. In a move Gaylord Perry or Joe Niekro would appreciate, pitchers may now carry a small wet rag in their back pocket.

Finally, should a game be tied after nine innings, a runner will be stationed on second base to start the extra frame. He’ll be the player who made the last out in the previous inning. In 2019, a little over 8 percent of all games went into extra innings. Apparently, there’s a concern about fans’ attention spans.

 

house ad

 

All of the above may have you thinking this season’s MLB rules came from watching a 12U game at the Edgcumbe Recreation Center. No, this is the product of months of intense negotiations followed by the realization that you either figure out how to play now—and collect what’s left of your contract—or wait until 2021.

No matter. We badly need the diversion that a baseball season offers.

It helps that the Twins are coming off an excellent season with high hopes of doing even better this year. Las Vegas apparently thinks so. Minnesota is heavily favored to win its division and, at 16-1, ranks fourth to win the World Series.

Other sports that have started up again also offer some forms of relief. If they’re not on the course themselves, golfers can stay home on weekends and watch the best players in the world hit shots the couch potatoes can only dream of duplicating. Soccer fans can also get their fix again. Even with the late start to the season, soccer games didn’t change that much.

Basketball and hockey may also start up again. We’ve seen summer basketball before during Olympic years. With the Timberwolves out of the picture, there may not be as much interest in the games being played in Orlando. Early reports have several key players opting out, not all of them by choice.

Hockey in August will seem odd. It’ll seem even stranger to be playing a Stanley Cup series in a neutral setting with no fans. It’ll likely scratch a small itch, but for Wild fans the real interest will be higher next season when the Russian youngster Kirill Kaprizov suits up for Minnesota.

It’s been an exhausting four months of battling an invisible enemy that has wreaked havoc on people’s bodies, psyches and livelihoods. Then just when we had had about enough of the coronavirus and things were starting to look up, we suffered the tragedy of George Floyd’s killing that put nearly everyone on edge. Six weeks after witnessing something we couldn’t believe we were watching, a lot of us are still uneasy.

Thus, we need the diversion that sports can bring us. Barring rainouts, there’ll be just six days with no Twins games from the first pitch in Chicago on July 24 until the final out against Cincinnati on September 27. Every game will be aired. As long as there’s a TV in your home, you’re good. Or presuming people can behave themselves well enough to allow the bars to stay open, baseball fans can flock to their favorite local watering hole to watch a game.

It helps that the Twins are coming off an excellent season with high hopes of doing even better this year. Las Vegas apparently thinks so. Minnesota is heavily favored to win its division and, at 16-1, ranks fourth to win the World Series.

So, give yourself a break—you’ve earned it. Take the few hours to relax and enjoy a game. A body can only take so much tension.

There’s historical precedent for this. A month after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote MLB commissioner Kenesaw Landis a letter. Landis had wondered if playing baseball was a good idea that 1942 season. Roosevelt’s reply was succinct: “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.”

Later he added, “Baseball provides a recreation…which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.”

History is a great teacher. Play ball!

College, prep fall sports still undecided

The curse of writing every other week means that, at times, news breaks after deadline. Such may be the case with the college and high school fall sports seasons. The MSHSL hopes to provide guidance soon on the future of the prep sports season. The NCAA has scheduled a series of upcoming meetings that should provide clarity for what may or may not happen this fall in the collegiate ranks.

Some dominoes have fallen already on the college front. The Ivy League has already announced it will not have a fall season in any sport. Several other schools have followed suit. The Big Ten has already nixed its nonconference games this fall. The MIAC presidents met last week and decided to follow suit. Soccer and volleyball conference action is scheduled to start September 16, with football expected to start three days later.

For schools like the University of Minnesota and its Big Ten counterparts, it’s a money issue. If they don’t play games, their advertisers and sponsors will likely get their money back. With no gate revenue as well, just how the colleges will pay for the scholarships of their tendered players gets a little dicey.

It’s also a tricky balance for local schools like Macalester, Saint Thomas and Saint Catherine. While they don’t give athletic scholarships, it would be naive to think that all of the members of their student bodies are on campus strictly for the academics.

MIAC commissioner Dan McKane spoke for a lot of colleges when he said with a sigh, “It’s been an interesting year so far.”

And no one knows for sure what’s next.

Dave Wright can be reached at dwright53@msn.com

COMMENTS TERMS OF SERVICE

The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.

Leave a Reply