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Monday, May 20, 2024

MLB playoffs in full swing

 In what once looked like a disaster, the MLB looks to finish off a wild season

Unable to create a bubble-type experience like the National Basketball Association (NBA) due to the large number of individuals on one team, Major League Baseball (MLB) took its chance and held its regular season in each teams’ home stadiums. There were still major changes, but having no control over the player’s actions outside of the stadium proved to be a difficult challenge that the MLB almost couldn’t overcome.

After officially announcing the return to play in July, MLB laid out their plan. Shortening the season to just 60 games compared to the normal 162 was one of the biggest changes. Other changes came later in the month, as the MLB approved the expansion of the playoffs to 16 teams compared to the normal 10. Having postponed the season during their spring training back in March, the league gave players about three weeks to complete their team training in their home stadium before the July 23 start of the season. Upon arrival, they were tested for COVID-19 and would be tested every other day throughout the season. Temperature is checked twice a day and antibody testing was administered once a month. In the case of a positive test, the player or staff member must quarantine and have two negative test results before they are allowed to return.

The MLB maneuvered with an abundance of caution, as the ongoing pandemic has proved to be a dangerous time in the world. In addition to testing and making the use of masks mandatory everywhere except the field of play, the league instituted many new rules that would change a lot of longstanding baseball norms. For example, there were no celebratory fist bumps, hugs or high-fives allowed under any circumstances. This created a rather awkward scene during home runs or even walk-offs. While they were allowed to chew gum, the chewing or spitting of sunflower seeds and/or tobacco was not allowed. The MLB made it known that any eating of that nature was not allowed in the dugout. In addition, once a ball had been touched by multiple players, it would be thrown out and replaced with a new one. 

Many saw the protocols the MLB instituted as too much, but it has to be understood that there could be no room for error on the field of play or in the team’s clubhouses. On paper, these rules seemed fine, but less than a week in, MLB would be tested. 

In a roadtrip to start the season, a total of 18 players and two coaches of the Miami Marlins organization tested positive for COVID-19 and the team was forced to quarantine in a Philadelphia hotel for a week. All of their games during that week were canceled and upon return, they were missing all 18 players. According to Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, many of the players let their guard down as were getting together in groups and not wearing masks. 

The Miami Marlins was not the only team to make these errors, as the St. Louis Cardinals seemed to follow in their footsteps when 16 players tested positive for the virus but the majority remained asymptomatic. Another outbreak for MLB led to commissioner Rob Manfred telling the MLB Players Association that if players continued to let their guard down, he would have to cancel the season. In the end, it ended up not being canceled but they were tested immensely. 

The regular season felt as if it went by very fast, as the usual 162 game schedule that ranged from the end of March to the end of September was now cut to less than half. As opposed to the NBA asterisk argument, the MLB argument was one that took some more thought. The season was cut drastically, almost no ways to improve a ballclub and above all, no fans in attendance. While some can argue the legitimacy of this World Series title, seasoned veterans know that this year will be a good kind of special. 

“It’s been a grind and it feels like a regular 162-game season, but we’ve just concentrated on ourselves and trying to do the best we can,” said Cardinals longtime catcher Yadier Molina. “It’s a weird year, but we hope it’s going to be a special year and we’ll be the COVID World Series champs. It would be very special, maybe more special in some ways.”

Playing at a professional level is hard enough, but that coupled with the added stress of a pandemic has been something that many players have had to endure during this abnormal season. As New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman put it, it might even be the hardest championship ever. 

“You could [also] argue this might be the toughest World Championship to ever win, given the circumstances we’re dealing with—not the Yankees, I am talking about the industry,” Cashman told SiriusXM MLB Network Radio. “And then the level of playoffs [you have to] navigate, to get there to be the last team standing, it’s going to be quite the accomplishment. Somebody’s going to be really well deserving to be proud of whoever happens to win that thing.”

As the league has now reached the final stretch of the season, the teams still alive in their postseason journey must do so on a neutral field. The final three rounds of this year’s postseason will be held on neutral sites where the entire series will be held there. Creating a bubble-type environment, the National League will play their games in Houston and Arlington while the American League will play in San Diego and Los Angeles. The World Series will be held at the brand new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Due to the location of the stadium in Arlington, the MLB announced that fans would be allowed for the NLCS and the World Series at a limited capacity of 28%, equaling 11,500 fans. 

What once looked like a disastrous season has almost reached the finish line. There were many obstacles that MLB had to overcome and, to their credit, they did. Despite the skepticism of being able to complete the season, it seems like they are just about to do it. As for the play on the field, people will always question the legitimacy of this season, especially due to the major changes all year. Maybe one could make the argument that statistical categories could be looked at differently, as numbers may be skewed. But, whoever is crowned champion will deserve it as much as those that came before them due to the current nature of the world and the added stressors never before seen.

A championship is never easy, and this one is no different. 

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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