With Cubs, White Sox back to playing games, can we try to leave the last year behind us?
The pandemic still has us in its clutches, of course. But maybe it’s better to look at these spring games and the coming season they prophesy not as a continuation of the same dark strangeness, but rather as a new chapter.
Has it been a year of this new normal already?
Well, not quite. Last Feb. 27, the Cubs and White Sox played baseball; for each club, the fifth or sixth full-squad game of the spring. It wasn’t until March 12 that — the first realities of the coronavirus pandemic beginning to hit home across the U.S. sports landscape — Major League Baseball put spring training on hiatus and announced the start of the season would be delayed by at least two weeks.
Two weeks. Can you believe that now? It’s almost funny. It just goes to show how clueless so many of us were.
In fact, we’d slog through nearly four months of nasty, at times absurd, negotiations between MLB and its players before the next official team workouts were held. In late March, we began hearing the term ‘‘prorated salaries’’ a lot. Discussions continued about where games could be played and how many of them could be played, all while circumstances outside of the parties’ control changed almost constantly.
Even as late as May 31, the players proposed a 114-game season. Can you believe that now, either? It turned out to be a stranger-than-fiction 60-game slate, imposed by MLB on June 22 — barely a week before players began to arrive at their home ballparks for baseball, at last.
Baseball, at last: three nice little words as we thaw from a brutal winter spell 1,700-plus miles from the Phoenix area. The Sox open their spring schedule Sunday against the Brewers at Camelback Ranch in Glendale. The Cubs open Monday at the Padres — hey, isn’t that Yu Darvish? — in Peoria.
The pandemic still has us in its clutches, of course. But it’s better to look at these spring games and the coming season they prophesy not as a continuation of the same dark strangeness, but as a new chapter.
One fan gets to watch newcomers Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks pitch, Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech fight to re-establish themselves, Garrett Crochet tap further into his potential, Andrew Vaughn swing for the fences and Adam Eaton wear black again.
Another gets to watch Jake Arrieta flex like old times in blue pinstripes, Zach Davies put his craftiness on display, Joc Pederson plant his flag in left and Kris Bryant and Javy Baez attempt to remind everyone that they know a thing or two about what they’re doing.
And it isn’t just about the guys on the field. Also changing — slowly, but changing — is what things look like in the stands.
The Sox plan to operate at up to 18% capacity (2,400 fans) at Camelback and the Cubs at 25% (3,750) at Sloan Park in Mesa. It’s similar to what we’ll see throughout the Cactus League and a taste of what we might see at some big-league ballparks in April.
Ohio’s governor recently approved a plan to allow 30% capacity at home games for the Reds and Indians. That’s five-figure attendance, if all works out. It even might resemble a major-league baseball game.
In New York, a slower rollout of loosened restrictions could have Yankee Stadium and Citi Field at 10% capacity for home openers. That’s right around 5,000 fans per park. The Rays announced awhile back that up to 7,000 fans will be allowed at Tropicana Field. There are at least 7,000 jokes we could make about that, aren’t there?
In Chicago, we don’t have any such numbers to sink our teeth into. But the COVID-19 positive rate here has been on a steady decline since early January. And if we believe Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, there’s a good bit of hope to hold on to.
‘‘We could have a pretty good chance of having a baseball season that’s a full season [and] that we could have people in the stands,’’ he told ESPN last week. ‘‘Maybe not right next to each other. There are going to be public-health restrictions, like mask-wearing and things like that.’’
It’s still something to look forward to.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts expressed his hope last week to CNBC that ‘‘with vaccinations and better treatments and better testing, by the end of the summer, it’ll feel like a regular baseball game.’’
This is one Ricketts sentiment that’s easy to get behind.
Spring games are here. Opening Day isn’t far behind. Yes, we assumed the same to be true a year ago. But if this isn’t fully a new chapter, at least dog-ear the moment. And try to have a little faith.