When baseball’s scheduled Opening Day … isn’t – Daily News



Years ago, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post turned a collection of columns and essays on baseball into a book called “Why Time Begins On Opening Day.” If you follow the sport, I’m guessing you understand the premise of the title perfectly.

But what if there’s no Opening Day?

Thursday was supposed to be 2020’s grand beginning. The Dodgers were to play the Giants at home. Clayton Kershaw would be on the mound, a sign that the world had returned to normal, and the renovations to Dodger Stadium were to be open to the public.

The Angels were supposed to start their season in Houston, likely the only place in baseball where the Astros would still have a friendly audience. Andrew Heaney would pitch and Houston resident Anthony Rendon, who had already tormented his hometown team last October as a Washington National, would be making his debut as Mike Trout’s protection in the lineup.

Normal? We wish. Right now the world is anything but, and what had been a highly anticipated baseball season – especially in Los Angeles – is on hold for an undetermined period because of a pandemic unprecedented in most of our lifetimes.

That is the worst part. The necessity of stopping spring training and shutting down camps means that when it’s safe to resume activity, whenever that might be, everybody will need at least a couple of weeks’ preparation time and maybe more before seasons open. Under those conditions, June 1 is an overly optimistic projection. We might be looking at mid-June, July 1 or even later, depending on when (or if) the novel coronavirus outbreak begins to wane.

And when it’s safe to play ball again, what happens then? A 100-game schedule, packed with doubleheaders? An 80-game dash? An expanded playoff field at season’s end? Or some kind of crazy-quilt postseason format of which none of us would have dared dream?

Maybe it will be a postseason that lasts into November or even December, played exclusively in warm weather cities or domes. Or best-of-five series across the board. Or maybe multiple play-in games with four or more wild card teams, or even an “everybody plays” wild card tournament. From this hiatus, and this crisis, could spring an inventiveness we’d never envisioned from the Lords of Baseball.

Nah, probably not.

Yes, we’re in uncharted territory. But this is the sport that had to be convinced to let the kids play, and that message still hasn’t gotten through to everybody in MLB. The issue isn’t necessarily thinking outside the box as much as getting all of the stakeholders to agree.

Meanwhile, how might this delay affect the 2020 All-Star Game currently scheduled for July 14, the extravaganza that the Dodgers have waited to host for, oh, only 40 years?

Does MLB scrub it for a year and give the Dodgers the 2021 game instead? Or, in echoes of 1981 when the All-Star Game in Cleveland was the first game back after a 50-day strike, would the 2020 All-Star Game become the sport’s Opening Day?

(Worth noting: In that ’81 game in Cleveland, there were six Dodgers on the National League roster. You put six Dodgers on the NL roster this time, whenever the game takes place, and you won’t be able to contain the joy in The Ravine.)

There are so many variables to ponder. Would a shorter season bring the Dodgers back to the National League pack, the advantage of their roster depth neutralized? Would it help the Angels, perhaps masking their starting pitching deficiencies and allowing Shohei Ohtani to be the ace from day one?

Or might another team emerging from back in the pack – the Padres, let’s say – take full advantage of that all-out sprint, or an altered playoff format, to steal a series and perhaps even a championship?

(Remember: Under more normal circumstances in 2019, the Nationals almost got Manager Dave Martinez fired early in the season. They entered the eighth inning of the NL wild card game trailing Milwaukee 3-1 and facing down Josh Hader. They were down two games to one to the Dodgers in the best-of-five division series. They didn’t win a home game in the World Series, and they still wound up winning the whole thing. Anything is possible.)

Beyond those considerations, here’s something that will make Dodger fans shudder even more: If the season somehow is canceled completely, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Wednesday and The Associated Press later confirmed, the deal being negotiated between management and the Players Association would give players the same amount of service time in 2020 that they had earned in 2019. In other words, Mookie Betts could become a free agent without having ever played a game for the Dodgers.

Latest MLB proposal includes draft in 2020, likely later than current June dates, sources tell The Athletic. Also includes service time for players if season is canceled; players would get same service for ‘20 they earned in ‘19. Parties earlier had discussed tabling that issue.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 25, 2020

The flip side: How would a canceled season affect clubs’ ability to offer the kind of contract Betts would ask for? Again, nobody knows.

But in all of this uncertainty it is safe to assume this: When and if this season finally starts, anyone offering excuses should be publicly shamed. It’s not fair and it’s not ideal, but they’re dealt this hand and they’ll play it.

“How many times have you guys heard this: ‘It’s a long season.’ ‘It’s a marathon.’ ‘It’s early,’ ” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said during a YouTube session this week with team announcers Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser.

“Once we get going in ’20, you better not hear that. You won’t hear that from our guys. It’s going to be a sprint. Yeah, it’s interesting to see how we’re built for the course of 162 (games), and you talk about depth and all that stuff. But once that season gets shortened, it’ll be a sprint. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.”

We can hardly wait. But we know that we must.