Opening Day in Time of COVID-19 is Deja Vu All Over Again

This week marks the Opening of the 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) Season.

Normally, MLB Opening week would feature me wearing my finest Tampa Bay Rays gear as I welcome the possibly of all that is to come over the six-month plus season.

Unfortunately, thanks to the continued presence of COVID-19, in the words of the late Yogi Berra, “It is deja vu all over again” as teams are canceling games and league officials are acting like they can wish away a global health pandemic merely by declaring themselves open for business and welcoming fans and their wallets with open arms.

In a perfect world the start of the 2021 MLB season would be cause for celebration as I cheer the Tampa Bay Rays on as they defend their American League Championship Crown. Unfortunately, thanks to the continued nagging presence of COIVD-19, that level of excitement is tempered by the fact that once again baseball is being played in the middle of a global health pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Last year, the Miami Marlins became the victims of an early season COVID-19 outbreak that caused them to cancel games.

This year, that honor falls to the Washington Nationals who saw their opening series get cancelled due to COVBID-19 outbreaks in the clubhouse.

To paraphrase Alanis Morrisette, it is somewhat ironic, don’t you think, I mean a little too ironic, I really do think, that a year after Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the opening day pitch for the Nationals that they would have a COVID-19 outbreak. Didn’t they listen when Dr. Fauci told them to wear masks and social distance to avoid spreading the virus?

A year after welcoming Dr. Anthony Fauci to throw out the first pitch, the Washington Nationals are stating the 2021 MLB season on the sidelines after a COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of their opening series.
Photo R. Anderson

And therein lies the rub, while the COVID-19 situation is improving this year compared to where things stood last year thanks to vaccines and other factors, numerous health officials are continuing to caution and urge continued vigilance in fighting the virus.

Despite these ongoing warnings from health officials, many state leaders have declared the virus over and are opening things wide open.

Case in point, the Lone Star State of Texas. After the Texas governor removed all remaining restrictions on masks, venue capacity, and other measures, the Texas Rangers are set to open to full capacity for their games. Other teams are welcoming fans back at various capacity levels.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to go to the Ballpark and watch some baseball. However, I am not going to be so selfish while people are still dying from a virus that can be mitigated through mask wearing and social distancing.

With capacity restrictions in Texas lifted by the governor, the Texas Rangers seem to have declared “Mission Accomplished” against COVID-19 has they became the only MLB team to open their Ballpark to full capacity for the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

I am also not so arrogant as to think that just saying something really loudly makes it true. I mean if one could just wish away inconvenient things, I would have declared victory over my statistics class in grad school instead of struggling every week with hours of homework on formulas I will likely never use again.

As I have said many times before, the selfish desire to see live sports in person is likely allowing the virus to spread. At the very least, it is horrible optics for leagues and teams to welcome fans back when all public health officials are urging us to restrain from gatherings for just a little bit longer.

Other countries have sports, and their fans would likely love to be seeing games in person as well. But for the most part, one does not see the same type of thumbing of noses at public health policy in other countries as one sees in the United States of America.

I am sure that many people in those countries around the world find it quite peculiar that a country with “united” in its name could be so divided when it comes to caring about others before themselves.

In addition to MLB Opening Week, this is also Easter weekend. For those who believe in the biblical account of Easter, versus only following the furry egg giving rabbit side of Easter, the season is a time to remember an ultimate sacrifice made in order to save others.

It is telling therefore that a country founded in part on those beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.

It is telling that a country founded in part on beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.
Photo R. Anderson

When lock down restrictions were being rolled out in the early part of the virus response in 2020 many churches were the most vocal about feeling that their right of assembly was being taken away from them.

Years ago there was a popular bumper sticker in the pre-meme days that asked What Would Jesus Do? I am just spit balling here but I am pretty sure that Jesus would not hold large indoor gatherings of mask-less people in the middle of a pandemic.

I cringe each time I see someone who identifies as Christian on the news decrying how masks infringe on their freedoms. I also still shake my head at trying to figure out how the Second Amendment gets thrown into the discussions on masks.

Can one really call themselves a Christian and be anti-mask and ignore science and common sense? Isn’t that the same thing as trying to be a fan of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at the same time? The two beliefs are simply incompatible.

One cannot believe the Bible and be anti-mask anymore then they can cheer the Bronx Bombers while singing Sweet Caroline. One cannot follow the biblical teachings that say do unto others, while refusing to wear a mask that health officials say protects those around us.

It certainly should give people something to reflect upon during this Easter season.

Speaking of reflection, for years baseball has been called the National Pastime. As such, I get that people want to be taken out to the ballgame for a few hours of entertainment. Lord knows I would love to see the sights and sounds of a Ballpark. It has been nearly two years since I last saw a baseball game in person.

I had hoped when my plans to travel to Spring Training in 2020 were cancelled that I would make up for it in 2021 but this was not the year to do that.

If everyone does their part and gets vaccinated when their turn comes, things will return to normal. If that occurs, hopefully by 2022 I will be enjoying Spring Training baseball once more.

However, if people continue to prematurely declare “mission accomplished” and ignore the science we will continue to have virus hot spots pop up and will never truly be able to return to normal.

Easter and MLB Opening Week are both time for reflection for believers of the biblical account, as well as for those who like Bull Durham’s Annie Savoy believe in the Church of Baseball.

Whatever one believes in terms of religion, or who they follow in terms of a baseball team, when it comes to COVID-19 we should have all been one unified front against a common enemy since day one. Instead of unity over a year later we are still a house divided and made up of warring factions convinced that their beliefs are the only true beliefs.

There will come a time when historians will look back at this COVID-19 era and provide a postmortem on what went wrong and what was done right. Now is the time to do more right to send COVID-19 away for good.

If we don’t it will continue to be that pesky thing that continues to get under our skin and causes problems, kind of like that annoying drunk person who always seems to find me at the Ballpark no matter where I am sitting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball themed Easter eggs to hide.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Way Back Wednesday: Remembering When the Tampa Bay Rays Joined My Triple Double Ballpark Club

Editor’s Note: As part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature, today we look back to the time that I saw the Tampa Bay Rays play at Minute Maid Park for the second time which gave them entry into the Triple Double Ballpark Club. With the Rays knocking out the Houston Astros and heading to the 2020 World Series it seemed a fitting time to reminisce.

As an aside, in the years since this column first appeared in 2013, and in keeping with the World Series theme, I had the chance to see the Texas Rangers, who are playing host to the 2020 World Series match up between the Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers at their new Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, play the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, California, and again in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. With those two new additions, the Texas Rangers became the first team I have seen play in four different MLB Ballparks.

If you had asked me who I thought the first team I would see in four Ballparks would have been, it is doubtful the I would have said the Texas Rangers. Nevertheless, the Rangers are the charter member of the Cuatro Single Ballpark Club, as well as having membership in the Double Double Ballpark Club.  

In addition to seeing the Rangers on two coasts in the seven years since this column first appeared, I also added trips to Coors Field in Denver Colorado, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California bringing my total MLB Ballpark count to seven out of 30. When the world of baseball reopens, I hope to continue my quest to see all 30 MLB Ballparks. Until then, please enjoy this blast from the past on this World Series inspired Way Back Wednesday.

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Tonight, July 3, 2013, at around 7:30 or so, I will be at Minute Maid Park watching the Tampa Bay Rays play the Houston Astros in the third game of a four-game series.

While the night will include post-game fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, it occurs to me that it will mark another milestone as well.

While it did not cross my mind at the time when I purchased my ticket, tonight’s game will mark the second time that I have seen the Rays play in Houston. Add that to seeing the Rays play two games at Tropicana Field and two games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and the Rays become the first member of my Triple Double Club.

There have been numerous teams that I have watched come and go through Minute Maid Park through the years.

Fresh off their first World Series appearance in 2008 I visited the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 for a long overdue trip to Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

But with the exception of seeing a few of them for Spring Training games, there have not been many that I have seen in multiple Ballparks so the Rays induction in the Triple Double Club is sort of a big deal.

The fact that the event will be met with post game fireworks is sort of a happy coincidence.

Okay so the Triple Double Club may be something that only matters to me but I thought that it was pretty cool.  Considering that I have only made it to four of the 30 Major League Ballparks so far, the fact that I saw the same team twice at three of those ballparks is nothing to sneeze at.

I have seen the Baltimore Orioles play at three stadiums during the regular season but only once at each ballpark so they are in the Triple Single Club. Of course, seeing them play in two different Ballparks over a four-day period gives them bonus points. And I have seen them play in three ballparks over the years during Spring Training.

A second ballpark viewing of the Rays was added in Arlington when I saw them take on the Texas Rangers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Texas Rangers are in the Double Double Club as I have watched them at both their home Ballpark and Minute Maid Park.

It stands to reason that they would be a strong candidate to join the Triple Double Club as all it would take was a trip to an additional ballpark when they were in town to get them there.

The Toronto Blue Jays make it into the Double Single Club as I have seen them play at both Tropicana Field and Minute Maid Park.

The Houston Astros are the team I have watched the most due to the close proximity between my house and the Minute Maid Park.  I have probably seen close to 100 games at Minute Maid Park over the past decade but ironically I have never seen them play a regular season game at any other Ballpark.

I’ve made numerous trips to Florida to see the Astros play in Spring Training games but during the regular season it seems that the desire to see them play far from home just doesn’t exist. In that way the Astros closeness is both a blessing and a curse.

Minute Maid Park became the third ballpark to watch the Rays in when I saw them take on the Houston Astros in 2011.
Photo R. Anderson

There have been years where I thought about making the four hour drive to see them play the Texas Rangers in Arlington but those thoughts were usually quashed quickly at the thought that I could just wait until the Rangers came to Houston.

But there are certainly worse places to watch games than Minute Maid Park.

With the Astros moving to the American League this year the odds of me completing the Single Thirty Club of seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park is pretty high.

I do not have the number in front of me but it seems highly likely that I am less than five teams away from reaching that goal of seeing all 30 teams from the air-conditioned comfort of Minute Maid Park.

Off of the top of my head I know I have yet to see the New York Yankees play there but the other teams that I am missing escape me at the moment. The Oakland Athletics seem like another team that I have yet to see play but with them sharing a division with the Astros that is an easy team to cross off of the list.

Tonight will mark the sixth Tampa Bay Rays regular season game that I have attended and the second at Minute Maid Park earning an inaugural induction into the Triple Double Club as I have seen a pair of games at Tropicana Field, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

I suppose it is entirely possible that the Yankees and Athletics are the only missing teams but I will definitely have to look into that.

I do know that the National League, and in particular the National League Central, is well represented in my list of teams that I have seen multiple times there.

While the focus tonight will be placed firmly on enjoying the Rays and the induction of the first member of the Triple Double Club the festivities will be short lived.

Tomorrow afternoon I will start my way towards the Triple Triple Club as I will be catching a matinee game between the Rays and the Astros.

I guess that means I need to plan road trips back to Arlington and St. Petersburg to complete the Triple Triple Club for the Rays.  I don’t think my arm will be twisted too hard to make that happen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide which Rays shirt to wear to tomorrow’s game.

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Epilogue: In the years since this column first ran, the Tampa Bay Rays joined the Triple Double Ballpark Club following trips to see them play at Minutes Maid Park and Tropicana Field. As such, the Rays are just a trip to Arlington away from making the Triple Triple Ballpark Club. Hopefully a trip to Arlington to see the Rangers and Rays play will be able to take place in 2021. I also was able to complete my journey of seeing all 30 MLB teams play at Minute Maid Park when the New York Yankees came to town.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

 

Dodgers and Rays in the World Series Proves that Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Next week the Hallmark family of cable networks will start their yearly rock block of festive holiday movies. No, I am not talking about Halloween movies, harvest movies, or even Thanksgiving movies.

Instead, the channels that were founded on one sentence greeting cards, ornaments, and conservative Midwestern values, will be blasting Christmas movies day and night for the next two months.

I am certainly guilty of watching my share of Hallmark movies throughout the year. I enjoy the way they can take three original story ideas that someone had 20 years ago and turn them into 40-50 “new” movies each year. However, the past few years have shown that there comes a point where there can be too many “filmed over the course of one weekend while still writing the script” movies.

I get that people could use a little Christmas right this very minute, but starting Christmas in October seems a tad extreme even by 2020 standards.

In that spirit of fast forwarding to Christmas without acknowledging the holidays in between Columbus Day and Christmas, today’s column will have a gingerbread inspired coming down the chimney and opening presents on Christmas day, and not Christmas Eve kind of feel to it with some Reece’s Peanut Butter pumpkins thrown in for good measure.

And with a tug on the old sleigh bells, away we go.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus after being told by some of her classmates that there was not.  Open consulting her father on the matter she wrote the newspaper with the rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the paper it must be true.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus. Here rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the newspaper it must be true.
Photo R. Anderson

Ah, such a simpler time when the media was trusted and not actively called the enemy of the press by an angry man who may or may not have daddy issues.

But I digress.

Back to Virginia and her letter. In the eloquently written style of 19th Century journalistic prose, an editorial response to her letter concluded that, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

Words to live by in 1897, as well as in 2020.

Just like Virginia back in 1897, I was beginning to question things as the 2020 baseball season was winding down. I have made it clear since January that I am disgusted at what the Houston Astros did in 2017 when they cheated their way to a World Series title.

The fact that the Astros were one win away from their third trip to the World Series in four years a few short days ago made me question whether Baseball Claus existed and made me question my very lifelong baseball fandom going so far as to utter the words that if the Astros won the World Series baseball and I would need to break up for a t least a year since I could not be around such evil.

Granted, it was a tad over dramatic on my part and likely the result of not having any off days between games but I was certainly wondering why Baseball Claus had forsaken us.

For those unfamiliar with Baseball Claus, he is the guy who makes sure that the National Pastime remains as it should and that cheaters don’t prosper. He is also the guy who makes sure Ballparks never run out of hot dogs and nachos.

Just like every Hallmark Christmas movie worth its gingerbread features at least one scene in a Gazebo, Baseball Claus ensures teams that cheat get a lump of coal in their trash can. At least in the Houston Astros case they can use the coal to power the train in Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, Baseball Claus was at his beach house in January when the penalties for the Astros were handed down.

I have no doubt that if Baseball Claus had been in his office at Major League Baseball (MLB) headquarters in New York City when the cheating report came out, he totally would have insisted that players on the Astros be suspended, or maybe even banned them from baseball for their roles in the season long cheating.

So, I gave Baseball Claus a pass on that one. I mean as a fellow lover of beach houses and time away from the office, I certainly cannot fault him for taking some time to himself on the sugar sand shores. I am sure he must have dropped his phone in the water and was unreachable when the cheating scandal broke.

My belief in Baseball Claus was tested once again when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and a decision was made to roll the dice and play a 60-game regionally based schedule in order to crown a World Series champion.

This time around, I chalked up the lack of response to stop the season by Baseball Claus to him being up north visiting his brother, Hockey Claus. Surely, had Baseball Claus not been trapped north of the border he would have stepped in. Of course, Baseball Claus did make his presence felt in Canada when he told the Toronto Blue Jays they had to play their season in America to avoid bringing more COVID-19 to the land of poutine and maple syrup.

After potentially being cheated out of World Series titles in 2017 and 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers are returning to the World Series for the third time in four years. Unlike in previous years, Dodger Stadium will not host any of those games.
Photo R. Anderson

So, while I could excuse those two failures to intervene  by Baseball Claus when we really needed him, the run up to the World Series had me truly concerned for his health.

Was Baseball Claus in witness protection? Had he succumbed to COVID-19 like nearly 220,000 Americans? There really were more questions than answers as the aforementioned cheating Houston Astros came closer and closer to going to the World Series for the third time in four years.

I had pen in hand ready to write a letter to the editor like Virginia had so many years ago to ask whether there really was a Baseball Claus; and then Game 7 of the American League Championship Series set everything right.

The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Houston Astros and punched their ticket to the World Series. One has to wonder whether the Houston Astros punched a trash can in the dugout in frustration after the loss.

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. host the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series game in 2008. The Rays second trip to the World Series will not include a trip to the Trop thanks to COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

I know I have been hard on the Astros this year. Upon further reflection I know what they could have done to have tempered the rage I directed at them.

Had the players acted more contrite and shown genuine remorse for their actions in 2017 I would have been more likely to forgive sooner rather then later. Don’t get me wrong, I would have still been angry, but I likely would have been less angry.

Instead, the players tried to play the role of victim and seemed in many cases to be more concerned about the fallout in terms of their brand then in the fallout of breaking the hearts of little Virginias that rooted for them. I saw no genuine remorse or acknowledgment that what they did was wrong. Instead, I saw players who were merely inconvenienced that they got caught.

As stated many times, the Houston Astros were the biggest winners in 2020 since they never had to face fans in the stands during the regular season. The few interactions with fans in Spring Training games before the world shut down showed the type of visceral anger they would have encountered all season long

Of course, in talking with some Astros fans over the course of the last nine months, some of them don’t seem to really care that the Astros cheated, and just wanted the Astros to win no matter what.

The divide among baseball fans in Houston is indicative of the divide within the United States as a whole on many issues like, climate change, COVID-19, the designated hitter, fans in stands, mask wearing, blue states, red states, etc.

If the divide within the United States was a canyon, right now it would be so far across that even Evel Knievel couldn’t jump it with a souped up rocket bike.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be.
Photo R. Anderson

Yes, all of you fans of baseball played without the aid of cameras and trash cans there is indeed a Baseball Claus even in this topsy turvy upside down pandemic ravaged year of 2020.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be. Maybe Hallmark was right to start their holiday movie madness in October, since I certainly received a gift of an awesome World Series match up under my Hallowgivingmas tree.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to fill out my Hallmark holiday movie bracket. I think the grand prize this year is a trip to Kansas City to see where the one sentence at a time greeting card magic happens. If I am lucky, I might even get to see a holiday movie written and filmed over the course of an afternoon. I hope it has a gazebo scene.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Columbus Day is a Day to Party Like it is 1492

Across the United States today is Columbus Day. It is also Canadian Thanksgiving but that is another column for another day, eh?

I am sure most of us recall from the story taught in school about how Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and “discovered” the new world.

Of course, there were already people living in the new world when Columbus arrived so by all accounts it has already been discovered, and was not new. Additionally, scholars often debate the timing of the arrival of the Vikings in terms of who really arrived from Europe first, but for our purposes here let us just say that it was Christopher Columbus.

Now, in addition to learning about the year of the arrival of Columbus students are also taught from an early age the names of his three ships that accomplished the journey.

These ships were of course the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

Growing up my parents had models of the three ships that Columbus sailed.

From the scale of the models as a kid it was hard to determine how large the ships were in reality. Still, even my younger me mind envisioned the ships to be much larger than they were.

A replica of the Nina as seen in the Houston Ship Channel a few years back. The ship travels to posts in the western hemisphere as a floating museum and is a must see for anyone who gets the chance.
Photo R. Anderson

A few years back I had the opportunity to visit a replica of the Niña when it was berthed in the Houston Ship Channel. What struck me the most about the ship was how small it was.

While I was picturing something more along the lines of some of the tall ships I had seen in ports along the Atlantic Coast, the Niña and her ship sisters were more along the lines of being large yachts by today’s standards.

The Niña replica serves as a floating history museum to help teach people about maritime travel in the 15th Century. During a recent stop in Pensacola, FL the Niña replica had a bout with Hurricane Sally while docked in Pensacola Bay. Although the ship broke free of the dock and drifted towards Blue Wahoos Stadium, were it not for the courage of the fearless crew the Niña would be lost. To say again, the Niña would be lost. Wow, that is kind of a catchy tune.

Considering the size of the ships that make cross Atlantic journeys today it is hard to imagine courage that it took to travel into unknown waters in such a tiny ship as the ones used during the Columbus voyages.

Still, despite the smallness of the ships they were able to get the job done and helped introduce Europeans to the new world.

Of course, whether that was a good thing or a bad thing is certainly something that tends to get debated as well. But let us assume that many of us would not reside in North America were it not for the age of exploration.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his crew set sail from Spain in the three ships and made landfall on October 12 on one of the Bahamian islands.

Columbus sailed from island to island in what we now know as the Caribbean, looking for the “pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and other objects and merchandise whatsoever” that he had promised to his Spanish patrons, but he did not find much.

In March 1493 Columbus left 40 men behind in a makeshift settlement on Hispaniola before returning to Spain.

While the first trip in 1492 gets the most acclaim what is often forgotten is the fact that Columbus made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain.

In addition to the aforementioned 1492 journey, trips were made in 1493, 1498 and 1502. Columbus was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but he never did.

Although the trade route was never found, his journeys marked the beginning of centuries of trans-Atlantic conquest and colonization which ultimately led to the founding of America.

While the future of Columbus Day is murky due to changing beliefs on the wisdom of celebrating the arrival of colonization to the “new world,” one should not just gloss over the uncomfortable parts of history. Instead, a full account of the history from all viewpoints is needed. Or as the public radio show says, history should have, “all things considered.”

During this season of COVID-19 and global pandemics where the world seems smaller based on the ability for a virus to be easily transmitted from country to country, it is important to remember that travel in 1492 was a lot more treacherous and involved long periods of isolation. We can argue whether the trip should have been made, or if the people of European heritage should have stayed on the other side of the pond, but that does not minimize the risk involved in such journeys.

The Tampa Bay Rays are two wins away from a second trip to the World Series. That is sure to make the Rays in Tropicana Field swim with glee.
Photo R. Anderson

Speaking of journeys of discovery, I would be remiss if I did not note that the Tampa Bay Rays are a mere two wins away from knocking off the Houston Astros and going to the World Series to end the strange journey that the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season has been.

With the Houston Astros making appearances in two out of the last three World Series it certainly would be nice to discover a new team from the America League building a dynasty.

In 1492 Columbus did indeed sail the ocean blue. Here’s hoping that in 2020, the Tampa Bay Rays score runs aplenty.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to go pay a Columbus Day visit to those three models of Columbus’ ships from my youth.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Rays and Astros Set to Battle for the American League Pennant

“So, Lord Helmet, at last we meet again for the first time for the last time.”

For reasons that only Mel Brooks knows, the above quote from the 1987 movie Spaceballs came to my mind when it became clear that the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros would once again cross schwartzs, I mean paths, in the Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason.

Last year, the Rays lost to the Astros in the American League Division Series (ALDS). The Astros went on to the World Series where they were defeated by the Washington Nationals. This year, the teams face off in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) with the winner earning a pennant as well as a golden ticket to the 2020 World Series to face either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros are set to face off in the American League Championship Series. The winner will advance to the World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

In any other year, I would be torn between rooting for the Rays, or rooting for the Astros. In 2020, I am rooting for the Rays all the way. Additionally, I hope that the Rays sweep the Astros en route to their second World Series appearance in franchise history.

The Rays finished with the second-best record in baseball behind the Dodgers and have roster depth that most teams can only dream of. The Astros finished the regular season with a losing record and feelings of disdain from 29-other teams.

As noted before, the Astros truly were the luckiest team in baseball in 2020 by not having to face fans in opposing Ballparks after it was revealed in January that the Astros cheated for much of the 2017 season.

The year 2020 has taken so much and given so little. Were 2020 to give us a season ending with the Houston Astros in the World Series, after it began with the Astros getting caught cheating, that would truly be a bridge too far.

Of course, I say that in jest since comparing the horrors of the Astros hoisting a World Series trophy after getting caught cheating to the horrors of COVID-19 is truly no comparison.

Although the Tampa Bay Rays are four wins away from appearing in their second World Series Tropicana Field will not host any of the games.
Photo R. Anderson

The global COVID-19 pandemic has truly been the story of 2020, as has the inability of the federal government to devise a coordinated way to stop a disease that has killed over 214,000 Americans in a little over eight months. But there will be time enough for counting the failures of COVID-19 response when the pandemic’s done.

For now, it is time to look ahead to the prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays carrying the baton for the Sunshine State while acknowledging that as much as I am thrilled at the prospect of the Rays being eight wins away from winning the World Series, I still remain convinced that the risks of playing baseball in the middle of a global health crisis well outweighed the benefits of getting to see live baseball in empty Ballparks.

Despite my reservations about having a season, MLB is a mere two weeks away from pulling off what many, including me, thought was impossible. So, whether they were just lucky, or if they were in fact good at mitigating COVID-19, I tip my Rays ball cap at MLB for doing what I certainly did not think they could do.

MLB overcame players testing positive and whole teams getting put in timeout for a week in their 60-game sprint to the postseason. They even expanded the number of postseason teams to 16 which allowed a Houston Astros team with a losing regular season record to now be eight wins away from a World Series title.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Some of the COVID-19 season changes, like expanded playoffs, and the universal designated hitter, may even become permanent fixture to baseball as MLB continues to try to tweak the game to appeal to a younger, fickler, shorter attention span, artisanal audience.

While MLB ultimately overcame their early season trials and tribulations, the National Football League (NFL) is facing the same challenges that MLB faced early in their season. Players are catching COVID-19, and games are being postponed. There is even talk that the pause button may need to be pressed on the entire NFL season to allow time to get a handle on outbreaks.

Like MLB before them, the NFL thumbed their noses at the idea of bubbles and decided to let teams travel from stadium to stadium. While MLB kept fans out of their Ballparks for the regular season, the NFL is allowing some fans to watch the games in person.

It should be noted that MLB announced plans to allow fans to watch the World Series in person in an attempt to act like there is not a global public health crisis sweeping the nation. Allowing fans in the stands offers the same containment efficiency that one might have when trying to comb the desert, or rake a national forest.

If sports must be played, there is no reason why they cannot be played in empty Ballparks and stadiums. Even if years without a global pandemic attendance at sporting events was already declining as more and more people chose rooting at home to battling traffic and crowds just to have the in-person experience at the game.

Sports will certainly be changed from this experience in the coming years. What the new experience looks like remains to be seen. For now, there is baseball to watch as the 2020 MLB season draws near the end and the Tampa Bay Rays strive to join the Tampa Bay Lightning in bringing a 2020 title to the Tampa Bay region.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to decide which order I want to wear my Rays shirts in next week. Rays Up!

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Rays and Marlins are in MLB Postseason at Same Time for the First Time

The other day as I was sipping an ice cold Arnold Palmer on the sun porch while dreaming of Publix subs and Key Lime Pie, it occurred to me that for the first time ever the Tampa Bay Rays and the Miami Marlins are in the Major League Baseball (MLB) Postseason at the same time; presenting the slight, but possible, scenario where a Florida World Series would take place.

There will be time enough to daydream about Publix Subs and Key Lime Pie, but for now, I must focus all of my journalistic efforts on what a Tamiami Trail series would look like.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, with this being 2020, I was not really on the sun porch, and instead was socially distanced inside when this observation hit me squarely between the eyes.

There will be time enough to daydream about Publix Subs and Key Lime Pie, but for now, I must focus all of my journalistic efforts on what a Tamiami Trail series would look like.

As a Ryan drops some geographic knowledge in a public service announcement kind of way, for those unfamiliar with Florida, the Tamiami Trail is the southernmost 275 miles of U.S. Highway 41 from Florida State Road 60 in Tampa to US 1 in Miami; running through Everglades National Park along the way. Think of a Tamiami Trail Series as a Subway Series with more alligators and less subways.

Before going any further on how much I would love to see a Tamiami Trail series, I should apologize to the Miami Marlins for quipping a few months back, or what seems like years ago in COVID-19 time, that the fact that they had a COVID-19 outbreak, and were forced to postpone a bunch of games would not matter since at the end of the day, and I quote “It is not like they are going to the postseason anyway.”

Following the COVID-19 outbreak when 18 Miami players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia, the Marlins returned to the field following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the players on the injured list and won its first five games en route to making the 2020 Postseason.

If I were peddling in revisionist history, I would say that I made that remark two months ago as a way to inspire the Marlins to prove me wrong. There is a long history of bulletin board material inspiring teams to greatness to prove what was printed about them to be wrong.

Yeah, that’s the ticket inspirational messaging.

I would love to say that is what I intended to do when I wrote those words, but the simple fact is I honestly did not think the Marlins had any chance in the world to be a playoff team. I made that comment  despite my love and respect for the team and their manager, Don Mattingly, who I have followed since finding his rookie card in a 1984 pack of Fleer cards from K-Mart.

The fact that I has a Baltimore Orioles fan could like a member of the New York Yankees really goes to show how much I like Don Mattingly and have followed his playing and managerial career closely through the years.

Because 2020, after starting the season in COVID-19 timeout the Miami Marlins made the postseason for the first time since 2003.
Photo R. Anderson

The Marlins had not made a postseason appearance since winning the World Series in 2003, and had a National League-worst 57-105 record a year ago.

So, I felt very confident when I made the statement about them not making a postseason run. But this is 2020 and apparently anything can happen. However, I am so drawing the line if I go outside and see flying swine.

Before the Tampa Bay Rays joined the league, the Marlins were my Florida team. I still have my 1993 inaugural season Florida Marlins media guide as well as numerous other Marlins items I collected through the years.

I cheered loudly during their 1997 World Series title over the Cleveland Indians, although I still believe the Baltimore Orioles should have defeated the Indians that year to face the Marlins. However, that is another column for another day.

I even cheered loudly for the Marlins again in 2003 when once again they won the World Series before doing what the Marlins always did; trade away all of their players after winning a title. But my Marlin fandom faded right around the time that they dropped Florida from their name and became the Miami Marlins in 2012.

As an aside, the Marlins are the only team among the four major professional sports leagues, (MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL) to never have lost a playoff series. Time will tell if that trend continues this year, or if 2020 is the year that the Marlins lose a series for the first time in three Postseason appearances. I suppose if they do lose they could just say what happens in 2020, stays in 2020.

While the Marlins face the gauntlet in the National League, the Rays must survive the American League challengers if my 2020 dream of the Tamiami Trail series is to come to fruition.

The irony in the potential for a 2020 Tamiami Trail World Series is that none of the games would actually be played in Florida. Instead, thanks to COVID-19, the games world be played in Arlington, TX.

Among the eight teams still vying for a World Series run my ultimate best-case scenario would be for the Tampa Bay Rays to add a World Series title to Tampa Bay to go along with the Stanley Cup the Lightning just brought home to Tampa.

Among the eight teams still vying for a World Series run my ultimate best-case scenario would be for the Tampa Bay Rays to add a World Series title to Tampa Bay to go along with the Stanley Cup the Lightning just brought home to Tampa.
Photo R. Anderson

My ultimate nightmare scenario would be for the Houston Astros to win the World Series.

As noted many times before, what the Astros did was wrong, just dead wrong. I would grin like a Cheshire Cat eating a Dodger Dog with Vin Scully were the Los Angeles Dodgers to sweep the Astros in the World Series, but I really don’t want the Astros to get that far in their “Cheaters Gotta Cheat, Cheat Cheat, Attempt at Redemption Tour.”

I am sure someday I will shake it off, let it go and decide to build a snowman over the whole Astros cheating scandal. However,  winning a title the year they were caught with their bat on the trash can would be too much to take, even in 2020.

Speaking of 2020, with elections coming up it is crucial that every American who is registered to vote does so. Many countries wish they had the freedoms we enjoy, but the cost of ensuring those freedoms is exercising the right to vote and allowing the democratic process to continue. The alternative would be to live in a totalitarian regime where freedom is suppressed and voices are silenced.

To paraphrase a blue-faced, kilt-wearing, Mel Gibson on a horse, “COVID-19 may take the lives of far too many Americans, but it cannot take away our freedom. So, vote.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about Florida baseball has me craving a Cuban sub and some sweet tea on the sun porch. Step one, build a sun porch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Oakland A’s Clinch the West While the Tampa Bay Rays are One Win Away from Clinching the East

The shortened 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season is heading into the final innings.

This means teams are jockeying for postseason positioning in the expanded playoffs that promise to look like nothing that has been witnessed before; based on among other things neutral site fan free bubble games played in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans.

From the beginning, I have held firm that I do not believe that a 2020 MLB season has any business occurring during a global COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing that could happen this season will change that opinion.

However, since a 2020 MLB season is being played, there are some things that have made me smile during the 2020 COVID-19 season.

During this year of pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, murder hornets, rare mosquito borne illnesses, coin shortages, and rudderless federal leadership, it is important to remember to smile now and then and enjoy the sweet, sweet irony when it rolls around.

Such was the case when I read that the Oakland A’s captured the American League West Division title and the Tampa Bay Rays are a win away from capturing the American East Division title.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

Although the Astros will likely still make the playoffs, I take great solace that in a season where their cheating was revealed, they did not capture a division title.

For anyone who may have forgotten, right before the start of Spring Training 1.0, the MLB Commissioner’s office announced that the Astros had been caught cheating during the 2017 season. The cheating scheme came to light when former player, Mike Fiers, outlined the plan to a pair of journalists after leaving the Astros.

Watergate had Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat. Trashcangate had Rosenthal, Drelich, and Fiers.

The fact that the person who blew the trash can lid off of the cheating happens to play for the Oakland A’s makes the situation even sweeter.

Although three managers and a general manager were fired, many people, including myself, feel that the Houston Astros players got off too lightly for their roles in the cheating that occurred during the 2017 season. So, since no players were suspended or fined, the next best punishment would be for the Astros season to end as quickly as possible and without any postseason victories.

In another sweet dose of irony, Minute Maid Park was chosen as one of the four neutral site bubbles for the postseason and will host two of the four National League Division Series. The World Series will take place in the Texas Rangers brand new Ballpark in Arlington, TX.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages in their lockers from the Dodgers.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages from the Dodgers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Dodgers were most likely cheated out of a World Series title against the Astros in 2017. Based on the bad blood that has boiled during the match ups between the teams this year I am sure any messages left in the clubhouse would be illuminating.

Now, some people may think that I am being too harsh on the Astros. Perhaps 2019 me would have agreed with that statement. But, 2020 me has no patience for rewarding cheaters like the Astros.

That is not to say that the Oakland A’s are totally in the clear in terms of cheating in their history. One need only look at the Bash Brothers of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire who were teammates on the Athletics for seven seasons; which included a World Series title in 1989.

Both McGwire and Canseco were tied to statistic enhancing steroid use that has kept them out of the Baseball Hall of Fame; along with many other players tied to the MLB steroid era.

As I have noted before, although a player enhanced with steroids is likely to hit more home runs, they still have to be able to recognize the pitch and know when to swing at the ball. A player who is tipped off on what pitch is coming, is a whole other level of cheating, especially when an entire lineup is taking part.

So, I contend that the team that brought the baseball world sabermetrics, Moneyball, and the Bash Brothers is not without their own past controversies. However, I will take the Oakland Athletics alleged indiscretions and crimes against baseball over the acts of the 2017 Houston Astros any day of the week.

Austin Meadows started the 2020 season in COVID-19 quarantine. He may end the season on the injured list. While Meadows may not be in the lineup, the Rays have the roster that could lead them deep into the postseason.
Photo R. Anderson

But enough about the American League West and the Astros. I grew up a fan of the American League East and that is where my true allegiance resides.

The Tampa Bay Rays have done what the Tampa Bay Rays do. Not only have the Rays survived one of the toughest divisions in baseball, they have thrived with the best record in the American League.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.

Hopefully if the Rays do end up winning it all this year the world will open in time for me to travel to the Trop next season to watch the celebration as they kick off the defense of their title.

Back to back wins by the Washington Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays would certainly make this Maryland born, and Florida raised writer extra happy.

Watching the Astros implode down the stretch would be another source of happiness. There may come a day when I cheer for the Astros again but that day will not be in 2020, nor do I think that day will be in 2021.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

The sad fact is the Astros would have been a good team even if they hadn’t cheated, but they got greedy and took shortcuts to be even better.

There are no shortcuts in life, baseball, or pandemic responses.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely in denial, or running for reelection from an echo chamber in a bunker beneath a large white house near the Potomac River.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Rays playoff baseball to prepare for.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Tanking Goes Mainstream as More Teams Ask Fans to Pay for Subpar Product now in Order to Reap Benefits Later

It has been said that it is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game that counts. For most people, this means playing as hard as possible, and knowing that win or lose, the best effort was given.

For other people, playing the game involves tanking in the present to improve the future. While there is no one way to tank, some tanking techniques include resting top-level players, building a roster of journeymen players, or encouraging players to leave a little in the tank and not go all out on every play.

By tanking, teams lower their season win/loss records, which leads to higher draft picks. Since most sports leagues give higher draft picks to teams with the worst records, the harder one tanks, the higher they draft. Tank multiple seasons in a row and a team can quickly build a roster of future All-Stars.

Of course, if multiple teams are trying to tank within the same season, than teams can find themselves not in a pennant race to be the best, but in a competition to be the worst. In 2019, four Major League Baseball teams finished with over 100 losses as part of their “rebuilding” process.

Tanking not a new to sports. What is new, is the openness some teams now have to telling their fans, and anyone else who is listening, that they are in “rebuilding mode.” The length of rebuilding varies by market and sport, but the usual length of a rebuild is about three to five years.

That is three to five seasons where fans are asked to accept a subpar product in order to potentially gain an advantage at the end of the rebuilding process. There is no guarantee that tanking will lead to success, but enough teams have succeeded at it that it remains a tool for some franchises to utilize in order to shortcut success.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. For their efforts of tanking to rebuild the farm system, the Astros won the World Series in 2017. That victory became tainted when the team was caught cheating through an investigation by the MLB Commissioner’s office. So, the actual benefits of tanking their way to a title could be equally owed to a well-placed trash can and video camera.

Proponents of tanking say that a few bad seasons are worth it if they can secure enough prospects to have five good seasons where they can make a World Series run.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. As one can imagine there were a lot of empty seats in Minute Maid Park during those losing seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

From an ethical perspective, no matter how you slice it tanking is wrong. People will try to justify tanking, but at the end of the day, there is no way one can say tanking is good for the sport.

Tanking cheats the fans of getting to see a competitive game, and it forces players to decide if they want to go along with the plan knowing that many of them will be replaced by the higher draft picks that their tanking efforts generate.

Teams who tank claim that it is the only way they can be competitive with the bigger market teams since they cannot outspend teams to build a roster of All-Star free agents each season.

It is certainly true that there will always be teams with higher payrolls and bigger stars. However, the Tampa Bay Rays, and others, have shown that by drafting smarter and working within their means, they can be competitive year after year without having to resort to “blowing up the roster” and starting over.

When fans buy a ticket to see a game, they are supporting the players on the field on that day. They are not spending money to watch people not play hard so that two to three years down the road a team can be a success.

There is a difference between resting a star player on a particular day, versus a season free of star players or teams trying hard not to win. Players deserve to take a day off here and there. Players should not take whole seasons off in terms of giving maximum effort.

In all sports, there is only one champion in any given year. Teams need to know that not everyone will get a championship ring, but everyone can act like a champion on the field through playing fair and hard.

The practice of tanking needs to be curtailed to preserve the sanctity of sport. Teams that are caught tanking should have their draft picks either taken away, or moved to later in the first round to avoid any benefits being derived from tanking. As long as tanking produces results in the form of high draft picks, teams will continue to engage in the unethical practice.

When steroids were discovered to be widespread in Major League Baseball, steps were taken to punish players found to be cheating. The same type of penalty needs to be handed out to organizations caught tanking.

For their efforts, the Astros rebuilding process gave them a core of young talent. In turn that talent devised a cheating scandal involving trash cans and video cameras proving that some teams really will stop at nothing to gain an advantage, whether that be tanking to rebuild, or tipping off pitches to win a World Series.

To me, there is no difference between willingly accepting years of rebuilding to build a better roster, and cheating with trash cans. Both approaches cheat fans out of seeing sports at its finest. For fans of the Houston Astros, they had the misfortune of enduring seasons of rebuilding only to have the legitimacy of the resulting World Series title called into question thanks to player greed.

I supported the Astros during those rebuilding years, and cheered for their roster of underdog ballplayers both in person and on television. I will take that roster of journeymen who were just happy to get to go to the Ballpark and play every day over the roster of cheaters that followed.

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.
Photo R. Anderson

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.

What I do need are players who try their best and know that it is the game they are playing now that matters and not some magical roster that will be built years down the road.

Sports will never be perfect. They are messy and complicated due to the presence of messy and complicated individuals. However, those messy and complicated individuals need to act ethically and look for advantages within the lines and not try to shortcut the system by working outside the lines.

I have noted many times that the Houston Astros caught a break this season by not having to play in front of fans booing them this season. Just because the fans aren’t there to boo in person does not mean that the Astros get off the hook. What they did was wrong and that shame should follow the players who took part in it for the rest of their lives.

What good is a rebuild if to find success one has to sell their soul? That is a question that more and more teams will have to answer until professional sports leagues put their foot down to punish tanking.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about rebuilding has me in the mood to build a sandwich that would make Dagwood jealous.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Verlander Shut Down with Forearm Strain as Injuries Pile up in Shortened MLB Season

The Houston Astros were dealt a major setback in their quest to return to the World Series for the third time in four years when it was announced Sunday that pitcher Justin Verlander has a forearm strain and will be shut down “for a couple of weeks,” according to manager Dusty Baker.

Verlander, the team’s ace, pitched for the Astros on Friday and experienced “tenderness,” which resulted in an MRI on Saturday according to Baker.

The news of Verlander getting shut down likely echoed through the Astros dugout like a well-placed swing with a Louisville Slugger to the side of a trash can.

In a normal season, a 14-day stint on the injured list (IL) is no big deal. However, in this 60-games in 66 days COIVD-19 inspired season, two weeks represents close to a third of the regular season. Plus, there is no guarantee that Verlander will be ready when the two weeks is up.

This is not Verlander’s first flirtation with injury this year. Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, was expected to begin the season on the IL back in March after having groin surgery and experiencing muscle soreness in the back of his shoulder.

With pitchers falling like Jenga towers, the MLB might want to look into using t-shirt cannons, or mascot sling shots as a means to prevent injuries to pitchers during the shortened 2020 MLB season.
Photo R. Anderson

The delayed start to the regular season created enough time for Verlander’s groin and shoulder to heal allowing the 37-year-old to take the mound for opening day.

Unfortunately for Verlander, and the Astros, a new injury popped up.

During Saturday’s Tampa Bay Rays versus Toronto Blue Jays broadcast, Rays broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson, mentioned that the shortened amount of time players had to get ready for the season would likely lead to many injuries as players tried to get up to speed in half the time of a traditional Spring Training.

Viewers did not need to wait long to see the prophecy from the broadcast booth come true. In the sixth inning, Toronto center fielder Randal Grichuk left the game after experiencing discomfort in his right sacroiliac joint while tracking down a ball at the outfield wall.

Three innings later, Blue Jays closer Ken Giles, a former teammate of Verlander, left with right elbow soreness after struggling with pitch velocity that allowed the Rays to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Due in part to Giles’ struggles, the Rays managed to tie the game from two runs down and ultimately won in walk off fashion in the 10th inning.

Toronto Blue Jays closer, Ken Giles, shown during 2016 when he was a member of the Houston Astros, became the latest pitcher to leave a game early as a result of an arm injury when he left the ninth inning of a game between the Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. Giles’ former Astros teammate Justin Verlander is out for a minimum of two weeks following arm tenderness during his Opening Day start.
Photo R. Anderson

While I am ecstatic that the Rays won, I never want to see anyone get injured on the field.

No timetable has been announced for the return of Giles and Grichuk to the Blue Jays lineup. Much like the Astros with Verlander, the Blue Jays will just have to wait and see how long they are without their teammates.

Back when the rumblings of playing baseball in 2020 were percolating, I mentioned that it was asinine to rush players back to play a shortened season that would not only expose them to a deadly virus, but would also lead to the possibility of increased injuries, all in the name of saying that baseball was played in the middles of a COVID-19 pandemic.

I take no joy in saying that just a few games into the season it appears my prediction was correct.

Verlander, Giles and Grichuk are just three of the players already injured. Texas Rangers pitcher Corey Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, left his start in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies after one inning due to tightness in his pitching shoulder. Also on Sunday, pitcher Reynaldo López, of the Chicago White Sox, left the game in the first inning mid-batter due to right shoulder tightness.

Stephen Strasburg, of the Washington Nationals, has yet to make a start in the 2020 season after being scratched due to arm soreness.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from players leaving games early due to injuries, Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, both were scratched from their Opening Day starts due to injuries.

John Means and Hunter Harvey of the Baltimore Orioles are both on the IL for arm fatigue. The list goes on and on with more players likely to be added daily.

Additionally, players with the Nationals, Rays, Reds, and others have yet to take the field due to being in the COVID-19 quarantine protocol.

While I admit that I am enjoying watching baseball on TV, it is not like I am unable to find things to do with my time if a 2020 MLB season did not happen. Providing fans a few hours of entertainment still does not seem worth the risk to players health both from COVID-19, as well as freak injuries like the ones that are running through the MLB with the same reckless abandon that COVID-19 is spreading across America.

An athlete’s career is short, and skills usually diminish with age. So, I understand the competitive nature of players wanting to take the field as often as possible. In that way, a 2020 season of any length, even one that allows over half of the teams in the league to make the playoffs, makes sense.

However, when one considers that this season is taking place amidst a global public health crisis, the optics get a little murkier.

As far as the Astros go, even without Verlander on the mound, they are likely to be one of the 16-best teams this year and should make the playoffs. Assuming they do make the playoffs, and Verlander’s injury is healed by then, that should help them in the postseason.

Of course, there is no guarantee that they won’t have other players joining Verlander on the IL.

The 2020 MLB season will be one for the ages. Hopefully it is a one-time only thing, and normalcy returns to the diamond, as well as the world in general, by the time Spring Training 2021 rolls around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to give myself another quarantine haircut.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Blue Jays Told to Find a New Nest as MLB Tries to Move Forward with Baseball in the Middle of a Pandemic

As Major League Baseball continues full steam ahead towards their goal of playing baseball in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic, the Toronto Blue Jays are scrambling to decide where they will play their home games after being kicked out of their nest days before the season is set to begin.

The reason for the scramble comes courtesy of the Canadian government telling the Blue Jays that they cannot play games in Toronto. In making the decision to ban MLB games in Toronto, a statement released on Saturday by, Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, noted that “the cross-border travel required for MLB regular season play would not adequately protect Canadians’ health and safety.”

For anyone who has been watching the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States rise like a phoenix, the news that Canada has said the MLB players are not welcome inside their borders is not shocking. The border between the United States and Canada has been closed for to all but essential travel for months and playing baseball in the middle of a pandemic is not essential.

Let that sink in for a moment, the COVID-19 pandemic is so out of control in the United States that countries are closing their borders to Americans in order to protect their own citizens. If that does not light a fire under people to try to get a handle on the virus within the United States, I don’t know what will.

The Toronto Blue Jays are scrambling to decide where they will play their home games after being kicked out of their nest days before the season is set to begin.
Photo R. Anderson

While some people may try to just wish the virus away, the fact remains, COVID-19 is not going to just magically disappear if we stop talking about it.

At press time, over 140,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. That is not a hoax, that is not fake news, those are the sobering facts that are getting more sobering by the day.

Of course, if people would wear masks and social distance, we could get a handle on this pandemic. However, it seems that no matter how many people die, some people will never take COVID-19 seriously. As I have said many times, and many ways, COVID-19 does not care who you voted for, and it does not care if you are tired of talking about it.

Unlike the United States, Canada has employed a nationwide strategy to battling the COVID-19 virus. Under Canada’s Quarantine Act, any person entering Canada from the United States is subject to a strict 14-day quarantine. Gatherings of more than 10 people are also prohibited in the city of Toronto.

While cases in the United States seem to hit record levels every day, the situation in Canada is substantially different.

“Canada has been able to flatten the curve in large part because of the sacrifices Canadians have made,” Mendicino said. “We understand professional sports are important to the economy and to Canadians. At the same time, our government will continue to take decisions at the border on the basis of the advice of our health experts in order to protect the health and safety of all Canadians.”

That is not to say that Canada has said “sorry” to all professional sports wanting to play within their borders. The National Hockey League (NHL) is set to resume the pursuit of the Stanley Cup in August with eligible teams divided between hubs in Toronto and Edmonton.

Similar to the bubble approaches used by the NBA and MLS in Orlando, FL, the NHL plan seeks to keep the players and communities as safe as possible by limiting travel and keeping teams sequestered.

Months ago the Tampa Bay Rays offered to share the Trop with the Blue Jays all season long. The Rays even went so far as offering to build the Jays their own locker room. In the end, the Blue Jays gambled on getting to play in Toronto and lost.
Photo. R. Anderson

MLB is the only league bound and determined to ensure that every team gets to play in their home ballpark during the 60-game in 66 days season.

Early on when MLB was developing their plans to return, there was talk of teams being based at their Spring Training Ballparks which would have put 15 teams in Florida and 15 teams in Arizona. That plan was later changed in favor of the home Ballpark for all approach. With the change, came added potential risk for virus transmission.

Arizona and Florida are now major hot spots of the virus along with Texas. Instead of keeping teams sequestered in Arizona and Florida, teams are now free to move about the country and potentially spread COVID-19 from hot spot to hot spot. Five MLB teams are located in the hot spot areas of Arizona, Florida and Texas.

With this as the path MLB chose, I can totally see why the Canadian government made the decision they did. Why would they want to risk the headway that they have made in corralling COVID-19 just to see cases spike in and around Toronto because some baseball had to be played there?

In case one wonders how seriously Canada is taking their 14-day quarantine requirements, consider this, although the Blue Jays were granted an exemption that allowed them to train in Toronto for Spring Training 2.0, players were confined to the hotel attached to Rogers Centre in order to establish a quarantine environment. The players were not allowed to leave the stadium or hotel. Any violations of quarantine conditions would lead to fines of up to $750,000 Canadian ($551,000 U.S.) and up to six months in jail.

The United States can’t even get everyone to wear masks, since some people think it infringes on their freedoms. Worse still, governors are suing mayors who try to mandate that people wear masks. It has been a while since I took U.S. Government in college, but I don’t recall studying the Amendment about the right to be selfish and risk infecting others during a global pandemic.

While Americans continue to resist simple steps that could slow and ultimately stop the spread of COVID-19, it is refreshing to see a federal government in Canada providing a unified strategy to combating the COVID-19 pandemic and showing real concrete steps to flattening the curve. The United States could learn a lot from our neighbors to the north.

In fact, most countries not named the United States have a unified strategy for combating the COVID-19 virus. Instead of attacking science and scientists who are trying to stop the spread, most countries are listening to science and making informed decisions on a national level.

With Toronto ruled out as a place to play their home games thanks to Canada treating COVID-19 seriously, the Blue Jays are considering using either their Triple-A Ballpark in Buffalo, New York, or their Spring Training Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

So, with Toronto ruled out as a place to play their home games thanks to Canada treating COVID-19 seriously, the Blue Jays are considering using either their Triple-A Ballpark in Buffalo, New York, or their Spring Training Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida. At the time of this writing, a decision on where they will play had not been made.

Toronto’s first regular season game is slated for July 24 against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Blue Jays’ home opener is scheduled for July 29 against the Washington Nationals. So, time is definitely running out for the Blue Jays to nail down the logistics for where home games will be played.

While I am not going to go so far as boycotting the 2020 MLB season, I remain steadfast in my belief that a 2020 season should not be played in the middle of a global pandemic. I also remain hopeful that between now and opening day the MLB will decide to pull the plug on the season. Of course, I doubt that will happen.

The Blue Jays’ home opener is scheduled for July 29 against the Washington Nationals. So, time is definitely running out for the Blue Jays to nail down the logistics for where home games will be played.
Photo R. Anderson

With all signs pointing towards a season taking place, the Toronto Blue Jays should have been more proactive and removed Canadian home games from the table months ago.

There are enough issues with spreading COVID-19 from state to state. There is no need to make an international incident out of it.

I enjoy traveling to Canada and look forward to when I can go there again. In order to do that, Americans need to show the resolve that was shown during World War II and unite against the common enemy of COVID-19. If we don’t, we will remain an isolated island with the rest of the world closing their borders to us and shaking their heads wondering how the richest nation in the world could screw up a response to a global pandemic.

We should have been out front leading the way to curtail the virus instead of blaming others and saying, “oh look at the shiny object over there” while Rome burned around us.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to wash my reusable masks.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson