One month into the summer, the Boys of Summer are back in an abbreviated season that is a testimony to the strange times we are living in.
You want an example? There are already several players on the injured list. Not the 60-day injured list, the “Covid-19 Related Injured List.”
Sure there will be the usual confusion to a new season, like why is Mookie Betts wearing a Dodgers uniform? And the non-typical confusion, like why are the Toronto Blue Jays the home team in a US stadium?
Here are nine changes to look for when the season begins Thursday with the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals hosting the New York Yankees.
‘Covid-19 Related Injured List’
Baseball normally has seven-, 10-, 15- and 60-day injured lists. These have changed for 2020. And this season it also has a list for players who are quarantined or put in isolation because of Covid-19. Players won’t have to stay on the list a specified number of days, it’ll depend on tests.
You can argue if you can social distance
One thing baseball is known for, and which can pull out the most emotion in fans, is the heated arguments between umpires and the combatants. We love to see managers rescue a player arguing balls and strikes, thrusting himself literally into the middle of the spat. Maybe not this year because anyone who leaves their position has to maintain 6 feet from umps or the other team.
DH for everyone!
You probably won’t be seeing the Giants’, er, the Diamondbacks’ Madison Bumgarner hitting much this season. The National League will have the designated hitter rule for the first time. It’s been in the American League since 1973. But Bumgarner, a pitcher, can be used as a pinch hitter and even play in the field if need be.
When the 10th inning begins, don’t look twice. There really will be a runner at second. In the minor leagues, where it has been used for a few seasons, extra inning games ended after the 10th much more frequently, according to Baseball America. Awesome, we get to see more bunts!
Who’s making that racket?
Each of the 30 stadiums will save empty seats for a few personnel not playing, but it’s gonna sound like a sellout. The teams will be piping in crowd noise and like an electric piano with keyboard effects the sound person can choose from 75 options. Home run! Big cheer! Called out at home? Groans. No word on whether the Astros will get extra boos when on the road.
Picture yourself being there
In a few parks, sections of the stands will look like there are actually folks watching. At least 11 teams are offering the chance for fans to purchase a cardboard cutout with their image on it. Wanna see yourself at Fenway? Make a $500 donation to the team’s foundation and you’ll get a cutout presence. Now, it will be a little weird to see dozens of smiling fans watching the visiting team score.
Keep your hands to yourself
When a player gets a walk-off hit his teammates will go after him as if he’s a big-screen TV on Black Friday. But Covid MLB is supposed to be different. There shall be limited high fives, few fist bumps, hardly any hugs. For the most part, they should be avoided, MLB says. And no spitting!
Technology over tradition
One of the most sociable moments in baseball is the exchange of lineup cards at home plate before the game. Umpires and managers shoot the breeze and exchange pleasantries. It’s a nice tradition that is being replaced by an app. Managers will digitally enter their squads.
More troops, no bubble
Social distancing in the dugout will be harder during the first part of the season. Rosters will include four additional players for the first two weeks when teams will be playing almost every day. Teams will then go from 30 to 28 players for the next two weeks, and play the rest of the 60-game, 66-day season with a 26-man roster.
And unlike the NBA, WNBA, MLS and NWSL, MLB will allow its players to go back to their residences after a home game. (And that’s where they are supposed to shower.) For visiting teams, it’s a hotel stay but personnel should stick to their rooms as much as possible.
CNN’s David Close, Kevin Dotson and Wayne Sterling contributed to this report.