America’s Pastime Returns: Baseball in the Time of COVID-19

Image Courtesy of WUSA9 

By Garrett Farrell

On Thursday, July 23, Major League Baseball returned to a thunderous lack of applause, after concerns over coronavirus caused the league to postpone the beginning of the 2020 season by almost four months. The Washington Nationals, the reigning world champions, hosted the New York Yankees, the most successful team in the league’s history, in the first professional baseball game since last October. Dr. Anthony Fauci was tasked with throwing out the opening pitch, which didn’t quite hit the mark. 

There were no fans in attendance at any of the games; however, many teams attempted to restore a sense of normalcy by placing cardboard cutouts of fans behind home plate and in foul ball territory.

Immediately following the opening game at Nationals Stadium, the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the San Francisco Giants in the west coast opener. The following day, all remaining teams played their first match of the season. 

Prior to their opener, the New York Mets, who hosted the Atlanta Braves, held a brief moment of silence in remembrance of Catholic University student Daniel Anderl, who was killed days before opening day.

The Nationals suffered a rocky start to their title defence, as they fell behind 2-1 in the first inning to the Yankees, and were never able to recover from that deficit. The Nats were playing without their starting left-fielder Juan Soto, who tested positive for COVID-19 hours before the match began. The game was called in the sixth inning when the Yankees were up 4-1 due to a severe electrical storm in D.C. 

The game was the first outing of the Yankees new star pitcher, Gerrit Cole, who signed with the team for a total of $324 million over the course of nine years. This contract represents the fourth largest investment in a player in the history of the MLB, and the fifth largest contract in the history of North American Sports.

On the political front, the Black Lives Matter movement certainly had its moment on opening day. Nearly all players, with only a handful of exceptions, took a knee before or during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. Before each of the games, a 200-yard black cloth was extended so that the coaches and players on both teams playing could hold it as a sign of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. This action drew the ire of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. 

“All those ball players, including the Yankees, taking a knee during the National Anthem of the country that made them millionaires is hypocritical. Support for BLM, which is provoking attacks on our law enforcement and innocent people all over America, is disgraceful,” said Giuliani in a Tweet.
According to ESPN, the opening match generated 4.4 million viewers on average, which is more than triple the viewership of last year’s opener between the Boston Red Sox and the Seattle Mariners. This vast increase in viewership over last year is an indication of the degree to which Americans have missed professional sports, and the need for a sense of normalcy in these trying times. However, whether or not the MLB will be able to sustain these ratings when the other major leagues return remains to be seen.

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