The 2021 M.L.B. Season Is Officially Underway
Baseball returns to something similar to normal in a jam-packed opening day. We’re following the action with live updates, observations from stadiums and more.,
By The New York Times
Baseball fought its way through a memorable, and memorably short, 2020 season, but it returns to something similar to normal today, with most teams in action for Game 1 of what is expected to be a full 162-game season.
The pandemic is far from over, stadiums are not yet back to full capacity, and all eyes will be on pitchers to see what effects a truncated workload last season will have on their long-term health. But there is also optimism to be found as teams return to their daily rhythms, crowds once again begin to gather and the focus can start to return to the game itself.
We will be following all the action of opening day with live updates, photos, highlights, observations from inside stadiums and more.
For some players, coaches, executives and fans, Thursday is just one of many opening days. But for one particular player, Lucas Luetge, this opening day is special even though it isn’t his first. It’s certainly his most memorable. And hearing the left-handed reliever talk about it before Thursday’s game between the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays served as a reminder of his appreciation.
Luetge, 34, last pitched in the major leagues in 2015 with the Seattle Mariners. After a long, winding road, and many stops throughout the minor leagues, Luetge made the Yankees’ opening day roster. He signed a minor-league deal with them in the off-season with no promise of cracking the major league roster, but he impressed officials with his pitching and attitude. He struck out 18 in nine spring training games.
The Yankees gave him the good news earlier this week.
“By the end of the day, I had a headache and my jaw was hurting from smiling,” he said. “Everything I had been hoping for the last five, six years finally came through and you just feel that sense of joy again.”
Luetge said he tried staying calm on the way to Yankee Stadium on Thursday morning, even though he did not yet know if he would appear in the game. This day was anything but normal for him.
“I’m going to take it all in,” he said. “When you’re out of the game or the big leagues for so long, you know how quick it can go from you. While you’re up here, it seems like you’re going to be here forever. So I kind of have that appreciation to take it all in, look around the stadium, enjoy it, instead of trying to look cool and act like you don’t care.”
We could all be a little more like Luetge.
— James Wagner
Although Yankee Stadium is not a packed house because of capacity restrictions, the crowd feels loud after the 2020 season was played without fans. In the top of the first inning, a tradition returned: the roll call of Yankees players from the fans in the stands.
The 2021 M.L.B. season officially began with a ball from Yankees ace Gerrit Cole to Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien. There were postponements elsewhere because of rain and coronavirus protocols, but it was play ball in the Bronx with a 1-2-3 top of the first.
Fans were in good spirits at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for the Yankees’ opening day game against the Toronto Blue Jays. The process for entry is more complicated than it was in the past, with temperature checks for fans and a requirement that anyone attending have proof of a recent negative coronavirus test or of vaccination. But a crowd of just under 11,000 people — 20 percent of the stadium’s capacity — is expected on a chilly day in New York.
WASHINGTON — Major League Baseball sailed through roughly six weeks of spring training without any major coronavirus disruptions, but just hours before first pitches were set to be thrown across the country, the problem lurched up again.
The Mets’ season-opening game against the Washington Nationals was postponed on Thursday because of at least one positive coronavirus test among the Nationals players and because several other players were determined to have been close contacts with that individual, which requires them to be isolated as well.
The earliest the game can be played is Saturday.
M.L.B. issued a statement Thursday saying that the game was postponed “because of ongoing contact tracing involving members of the Nationals organization. Out of an abundance of caution, the game will not be made up on Friday.”
The delay means the Mets and their fans will have to wait at least a few more days to see Francisco Lindor, their new superstar shortstop who just agreed to a 10-year, $341 million contract extension, make his Mets debut.
Jacob deGrom of the Mets had been slated to start Thursday’s game against Max Scherzer of the Nationals in a matchup of Cy Young Award winners. They will likely keep those assignments for whenever the game ends up being played.
On Wednesday, Mike Rizzo, Washington’s general manager, said that five players and one staff member were already ruled out of Thursday’s game. They include the unidentified player who tested positive and at least four other players and the staffer, who were in close contact with him. More could eventually be identified.
Rizzo was confident at the time that the game would be played on Thursday. He noted that the Nationals were tested again on Wednesday, but the results of those tests were not available at the time he spoke. It is not known if any additional players tested positive.
The original positive test came from a round of testing done on Monday, the last day of spring training for the Nationals. Following that game, the team flew back to Washington. Rizzo said he was alerted to the positive test after 1 a.m. on Wednesday.
Last year, dozens of games were postponed after outbreaks on various teams, resulting in complicated rescheduling plans, with many teams playing multiple doubleheaders across the sport. This year, M.L.B. had wanted to postpone the season a month to allow more time for players and staff members to get vaccinated and for virus infection rates to drop around the country, but were unable to gain approval of the plan from the players’ union.
M.L.B. has offered to relax coronavirus restrictions on teams once 85 percent of players and staff members are fully vaccinated.
— David Waldstein
Ian Desmond’s emotional Instagram post about his reasons for opting out of the 2020 baseball season struck a chord with many, but he has largely stayed away from media coverage since. His decision to opt out of the 2021 season as well — or the beginning of it at the very least — was somewhat surprising to outsiders, but less so to people who know Desmond well.
Anna Katherine Clemmons talked to Desmond about his life outside of the game, his family and how being biracial influenced so many of his views and decisions. One thing he is definitely not doing is standing still.
“Ian is a person who is always outside, always doing something,” Chelsey Desmond said of her husband. “He doesn’t do well with idle time.”
Many teams finally got to play in front of fans again. Here’s what it looked like.
Saul Martinez for The New York Times
Jonathan Zizzo for The New York Times
Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Mark Abramson for The New York Times
Eve Edelheit for The New York Times
Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Saul Martinez for The New York Times
President Biden said on Wednesday that he would “strongly support” Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game from Atlanta after the executive director of the players’ union said he was open to discussing such a move after Georgia Republicans passed a law last week to restrict voting access in the state.
“The very people who are victimized the most are the people who are the leaders in these various sports,” Mr. Biden said in an interview on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” the night before Opening Day. “And it’s just not right.”
His comments came on the same day that major companies like Delta Air Lines, Georgia’s largest employer, sharply criticized the legislation in the face of mounting pressure from activists, customers and Black executives. The law introduced stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting and limited drop boxes in predominantly Black neighborhoods, and it expanded the legislature’s power over elections.
In the interview, the president also encouraged baseball fans to wear masks and abide by social-distancing protocols. While spectators are required to wear masks at every ballpark, policies have differed depending on the guidelines of each city or state. The Texas Rangers plan to open their stadium, in Arlington, to full capacity, allowing about 40,300 fans to fill in.
“I think it’s a mistake. They should listen to Dr. Fauci and the scientists and the experts,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert. “But I think it’s not responsible.”
On Monday, Mr. Biden called for governors and mayors to reinstate mask mandates. The administration has also been working to combat vaccine hesitancy in minority communities as well as among conservatives in rural areas, with an advertising campaign and by relying on community leaders to promote the benefits of the coronavirus vaccine.
Asked what he would say to athletes who are hesitant to be vaccinated, Mr. Biden said: “I’m president of the United States. I got vaccinated.”
“Would I take the vaccination, the vaccine, if I thought it was going to hurt me?” he added.
The expected highlights of opening day, which will stretch from 1:05 p.m. Eastern time until approximately 1 a.m., include the Hall of Famer Tony La Russa’s return to managing with the Chicago White Sox, Francisco Lindor’s debut with the Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers beginning their title defense.
But the most interesting game of the day is quite likely the Houston Astros’ road opener at Oakland, where they will face a hostile regular season crowd for the first time since their elaborate sign-stealing scheme (which helped the team win the 2017 World Series) was revealed. That game between the Astros and the Athletics is one of three opening day games that will be broadcast nationally on ESPN (the Mets-Nationals game, which was also set for ESPN, has been postponed). Here is the full opening day schedule.
Toronto Blue Jays at Yankees, 1:05 p.m., ESPN (all times Eastern)
Cleveland at Detroit Tigers, 1:10 p.m.
Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox, postponed, rain
Minnesota Twins at Milwaukee Brewers, 2:10 p.m.
Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs, 2:20 p.m.
Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies, 3:05 p.m., ESPN+
Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres, 4:10 p.m.
Los Angeles Dodgers at Colorado Rockies, 4:10 p.m., ESPN
St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds, 4:10 p.m.
Tampa Bay Rays at Miami Marlins, 4:10 p.m.
Texas Rangers at Kansas City Royals, 4:10 p.m.
Mets at Washington Nationals, postponed
Chicago White Sox at Los Angeles Angels, 10:05 p.m.
Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics, 10:07 p.m., ESPN
San Francisco Giants at Seattle Mariners, 10:10 p.m.
Fans were not permitted to any regular season games last season, but there will be some allowed in every major league park at the start of the 2021 campaign.
The capacities of the various parks range from just over 1,000 at teeny-tiny TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla., which will serve as the temporary home of the Toronto Blue Jays, all the way to full capacity, at least for one game, at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, where the Texas Rangers are eager to show off their new stadium after it sat empty until the 2020 postseason.
Keeping up with the off-season movements of 30 teams can be a daunting task. Luckily, Tyler Kepner took the time to run through all 30 teams, highlighting a reason for them to be optimistic, a reason for them to be pessimistic and a key statistic for each.
Did you know that the Philadelphia Phillies had a lead at some point during 48 of their 60 games last season (despite winning only 28 games)? Would you have guessed that Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals leads the American League in hits since 2017? Tyler did.
Tyler also made postseason predictions, and fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers will want to read all the way to the bottom.