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Pittsburgh Pirates: What does the COVID-19 situation mean for the upcoming MLB season?

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Examining what the current COVID-19 pandemic could mean for the upcoming season.

View of Stadium

In ordinary times, yesterday would have been Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. Pittsburgh Pirates fans and baseball fans of all of the other 29 teams across the league would have poured into baseball parks across this great nation on the inaugural day of the 2020 baseball season.

Their hopes would have been at full capacity while readying themselves to watch the first game of a 162-game grind for their team with a clean slate and nothing but an offseason full of reports of how this player showed up in the best shape of their life, why this prospect was about to change the dynamics of the league, and how likely this veteran was for a bounce-back season.

The diehard fans of baseball would have endured chilly northern temperatures to breathe in spring’s first whiff of stadium hot dogs while washing it down with an ice-cold $11 stadium beer. No one would have cared that the bitter temperatures were less than ideal when compared to those that would be played during the dog days of summer.

Instead, our nation faces a crisis that has postponed America’s Favorite Pastime as we learn the new reality of “social distancing”. Instead of rooting for the Pirates as they took on the Tampa Bay Rays in an inter-league matchup to begin the season, many of us are abiding by the “shelter in place” orders that have been issued by our local municipalities.

It certainly is a weird new reality we embrace. This reality is currently rooted deeply in uncertainty. The uncertainty of how devastating this pandemic may be to human life. The uncertainty of how long this new normal is going to last. The uncertainty of the economic impacts and global ramifications that await us on the other side of this “invisible killer”. Let’s be brutally honest, the uncertainty can be daunting at times and will emotionally and mentally exact a toll on us if we allow it to.

Major League Baseball has served as a rock of certainty to our nation during the most uncertain of times. Outside of labor strikes within the sport and weather postponements, the game of baseball has only been postponed or canceled due to national or global events on three occasions.

The first time was on August 2, 1923, the day that then United States President Warrant G. Harding passed away unexpectedly due to a heart attack. Games were canceled that day and resumed the following day.

The second time was on June 6th, 1944 when brave armed forces of the Greatest Generation stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Among them were baseball heroes such as Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Leon Day.

The third occasion was from September 11th through September 16th in 2001, following the deadly terrorist attacks on 9-11 on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania when a brave group on Flight 93 met their demise fighting the evils of mankind.

Fast forward to the present, where we sit at the crossroads of a postponement of a significant portion of the Major League Baseball season and the full out cancellation of the entire year. Commissioner Rob Manfred has shown his desire to resurrect the season from the ashes as soon as it is deemed safe.

Reports came out a couple of days ago that Major League Baseball was hoping for a May or June beginning to the season. By starting then, they would be able to play at least 100 games this year. However, that is put in serious doubt as long as major metropolitan areas across the nation remain under shelter in place orders.

The logistics of trying to navigate around a potentially fluid situation surrounding cities under the shelter in place order would be a nightmare for the league. For instance, if Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati were still allowing mass gatherings, but Chicago and St. Louis were under shelter in place orders, several questions would arise.

How do you determine where games are played? How do you determine gate revenues? Do you play in one city with no fans and another with a packed house? What happens if St. Louis lifts its shelter in place and Pittsburgh suddenly enforces one in their city? The questions of logistics are vast.

As a result, per Jeff Passan of ESPN, the players and the league agreed that the 2020 Major League Baseball season will not begin until there are no bans on mass gatherings that limit the ability to play in front of fans, there are no travel restrictions, and when medical experts determine games will not pose a risk to the health of teams and fans.

With that announcement, the likelihood of Major League Baseball resuming in May or June may have taken a significant hit. Even with varying opinions on how long this pandemic will ultimately last, most agree that the social distancing practice may be in effect for a while longer as the world looks to “flatten the curve” regarding the spread of this highly contagious virus.

The threat of the cancellation of a sports season is not only just a risk to Major League Baseball, as today ESPN Analyst Kirk Herbstreit stated “I’ll be shocked if we have NFL football this fall, if we have college football. I’ll be surprised if that happens.”

The sentiment of Herbstreit has been increasingly echoed by others who fear this pandemic could drag on and adversely affect collegiate and professional sports but more importantly the well-being of the human race.

If there is legitimate concern over whether the National Football League and college football could be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then it should be expected that the Major League Baseball season is in serious jeopardy as well, as the football seasons begin when baseball is two-thirds of the way over.

While there is hope that a miracle happens concerning a medical breakthrough in treating or preventing this virus, the bleak reality is that we may be facing the effects of this terrible pandemic throughout the spring, summer and into the fall at the earliest and that it may spell the demise of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

If the season does end before it starts, there will be several questions that will need to be answered. Will the international and amateur drafts still take place? How will high schools and colleges who ended baseball seasons soon after they began handle eligibility for their players? Will teams receive the same draft slots in back-to-back years if the drafts are held? There are a ton of questions that canceling the season will cause to arise.

If the season is canceled, there were be time to address the uncertainty. In many ways baseball will be a microcosm of society, working through the fluidity of the situation, while addressing the uncertainty on a day-to-day basis to mitigate the pain as much as possible.

Perhaps we as fans must turn to the world of sports for normalcy once more in these uncertain times. After all, the sporting world was the first to begin postponing and canceling games and seasons, regardless of how unpleasant and unpalatable, that may be.

They did so to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic despite the devastating economic impact it would have on players, owners, employees, teams, leagues, universities, and conferences. They were mindful of the potential to spread the virus to the general populations with mass gatherings at sporting events.

As such, we need to take note and work to do our part to help stop the spread of this pandemic. We need to help those in need when possible and do whatever we can to help the healthcare industry as they head to the frontlines to fight the war against this deadly virus.

Baseball has been through times where it was not played due to uncertainty and tragedy facing the world. In the end, it always came back. It came back stronger and better than ever and helped heal this great nation when it needed healing most.

Baseball will come back again, maybe it’s later this year, maybe its next, the timeframe like most things today is uncertain. Be certain though, IT...WILL...BE...BACK! Not only will baseball return from its uncertain hiatus, so will our nation. After all, much like the sports that we love so much, we as a nation and a human race are also beacons of determination, tenacity, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to raise and defeat adversity.

It will be imperative for us to remember those facts when we face the uncertain times that we are facing. Remember that the uncanny ability that our favorite baseball players draw from when facing a bases-loaded, two-strike count, with two outs and their team down by three runs, to grit their teeth and double down to hit the game-winning grand slam is coming from the same source that gives us our ability as humans to stare down tough times and overcome them.

Be safe, be kind, be patient, we will overcome!