By Jeremy Harness
So many questions, so few answers. And a lot of these questions, frankly, have nothing to do with baseball.
How much longer will players be forced to play inside empty ballparks, with the exception of a few employees, cutouts and teddy bears?
The Giants and A’s played a two-game home-and-home exhibition series earlier this week, and the two teams went about this issue in slightly-different ways. The first few rows of seats behind the plate at Oakland Coliseum were filled with said cutouts, which supposedly could give a pitcher a certain sense of support but seemingly have no other purpose.
Oracle Park, on the other hand, did not have any of that, instead relying on the regular public-address announcer as well as fake crowd noise that all teams are employing, to give the impression that these games – and this season – are, but in reality are anything but.
Who will emerge with the tightest mask game?
Wearing a mask over the nose and mouth while in an active sports competition is a concept that not everyone has warmed up to – a local driving range just this week made wearing masks mandatory while hitting golf balls – but expect it to be a thing throughout the coming weeks and months.
Only a portion of players wore masks during MLB’s exhibition series, aka Summer Camp, but that number is expected to grow as well. And just like shoes – or any other part of clothing, really – masks come in different forms and can be certainly be used as a fashion statement or to get a certain message across. Which brings us to our next question.
How many players will choose to kneel for the national anthem?
In 2016, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick famously started kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality toward African Americans, and was soon joined by fellow NFL players such as his teammate, safety Eric Reid, as well as safety Malcolm Jenkins.
The next year, A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel. Fast forward three years, and following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that involved law enforcement and the ensuing re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the number of players has increased considerably. Giants manager Gabe Kapler as well as three Giants players and a pair of coaches knelt during the national anthem during the recent Giants-A’s exhibition games.
This has also occurred around the league, as Joey Votto was among a number of Cincinnati Reds players to take a knee. Even though the silent protests did not catch on in baseball back in 2017 when Maxwell broke the mold, this has certainly gained momentum, as has the movement in general.
Last but not least, will even this abbreviated season be cut short once more should the COVID-19 pandemic spike to the point where mass shutdowns are to occur?
This has obviously been the most unprecedented, uncertain four-month span of our generation, so to expect anything different for this upcoming baseball season would be absurd. There have been recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, particularly in California, and there is no guarantee that there will not be any roadblocks that arise during this shortened season.
Just like with anything regarding everyday life, we have to take a wait-and-see approach. With that, the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers will convene inside a mostly-empty Dodger Stadium on Thursday to begin a season that was nearly scrapped entirely amid wrangling between the league’s owners and the MLBPA.
With all the questions that are out there, at least one can be answered at this point: There will be baseball to be played, and watched, around the country, and that’s a good start to possibly getting back to the place that we had known for so long but has since been taken from us.