On March 11, San Diego Padres prospect Seth Mejias-Brean grounded out to second base securing a 4-2 win for the Seattle Mariners.
With Mejias-Brean's ground out, the 2020 Major League Baseball season officially began a delay due to COVID-19. What was expected to be at least a two-week delay turned into a nearly four-month stoppage.
On June 24 MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced the return of the MLB season with teams starting on either July 23 or 24.
“I am extremely excited for the opportunity to play this year,” Illinois State University alumnus and current St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong said. “Obviously nothing was guaranteed so any good news was going to be well received. It just kind of confirmed all of our efforts throughout that whole break when we were staying ready. So, it is very reassuring to be able to have this opportunity.”
A second training camp dubbed Summer Camp opens on July 1 at teams’ home field where they will have three weeks before games begin.
Once the season begins, fans will see a series of rule changes. The biggest includes a cut down on games from 162 to just 60. Other changes include implementing the designated hitter in the National League, a runner starting on second base during extra innings and strict rules against unsportsmanlike conduct.
An abridged season means every game means more according to DeJong.
“One loss just seems to weigh on you more,” DeJong said. “I just think the intensity of the games is going to be so much higher which is going to make it more fun to compete. It's going to be a fun run.”
New health-related rules to prevent the spread at COVID-19 will be enforced. Teams are expected to provide extended dugouts and bullpens, players are not allowed to spit, chew seeds or chewing tobacco, pitchers will be allowed a wet rag to wet their hands instead of licking their fingers and teams will exchange lineups digitally.
All players, coaches and umpires are expected to practice social distancing when possible. When balls are not in play fielders are encouraged to remain away from base runners, third and first base coaches are not allowed to approach a baserunner, fielder or umpire and a ban on opposing player fraternizing pre and post-game.
With widespread testing throughout teams, positive cases are expected. The MLB will institute a COVID-19 injured list that teams can put players on for an indefinite period.
“I am not sure what's going to happen with it,” DeJong’s agent Burton Rocks said. “To be honest because you don't know how it's going to work out. Players will definitely test positive. So, it's all trial and error for everybody.”
Once the MLB returns, DeJong expects fan reception to be strong.
“I think fans are going to love tuning in watching the games for some live entertainment,” DeJong said. “I think everyone will get back on the normal schedule which is fun because we love being out there with the job of a baseball game every day. So, it gives the people that follow our sport a chance to express themselves and kind of let themselves escape and join the drama of the baseball game. So, you know I think everyone's excited to be able to watch.”
Rocks sees the season as a chance for fans to escape.
DeJong and the Cardinals open Summer Camp on July 1 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.