And while the vast salaries and ripped athleticism of modern players have no precedent, the rituals and geometric truths of a fabled game that has borne fans through the national crises of earlier eras brought comfort and continuity in tough times.
It’s going to take widespread vaccination to drive the virus down sufficiently to allow a return to packed baseball stadiums later in the summer — and then to see fans return en masse to indoor arenas later this year.
Biden rebukes Texas Rangers on capacity crowd move
On the issue of crowds, Biden registered clear disapproval with a plan by the Texas Rangers to have a full house at Globe Life Field for their home opener on April 5.
Texas is one of the states that has defied the President’s call for patience in easing Covid-19 restrictions in order to allow time for more people to be vaccinated. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott canceled a mask mandate and has declared the state fully opened.
Biden backed calls by civil rights campaigners for baseball’s All-Star Game, which is due to be held this year in Atlanta, to be moved to a different state. Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, has said, according to the Boston Globe, that it would be open to a discussion on moving All-Star celebrations.
“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly. I would strongly support them doing that,” Biden told ESPN. “People look to them. They’re leaders.”
The commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, said on ESPN that the sport had “always been opposed to any law that unfairly restricts access to voting rights.”
But he also appeared to indicate that at this stage moving the All-Star Game, scheduled for July 13, would be impractical.
“We plan these games years in advance and this game is only three months away. It’s one thing to say this game should be moved, it’s another thing to figure out how to move it on that short time frame.”
Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, meanwhile, lashed out at the campaign to shift the venue, accusing Biden of trying to distract attention from a flood of child migrants at the southern border, which Republicans say is the result of his more humane immigration policies.
“You know, he’s focused on trying to get Major League Baseball to pull the game out of Georgia, which is ridiculous,” Kemp told Fox News.
The Georgia voting law may also be in the background at the Masters next week, the first men’s golf major of the year at the Augusta National Golf Club. Racial issues were already to the fore of this year’s tournament since Lee Elder, the first Black player to tee off at the Masters, in 1975, will be making his debut as honorary starter alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
The crack of the bat rang more loudly than usual Thursday around sparsely populated ballparks among socially distanced and masked fans. Most stadiums were much less than half full, with 20% to 30% capacity.
At least three players have tested positive for Covid-19 and another is considered a “likely” positive, Nationals manager Dave Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo confirmed during a video conference Thursday.
The loss of the game was a reminder of the complications of putting on a full baseball season and all the travel that it involves during a pandemic. Last year, there was a heavily truncated seasons in the major leagues.
At Yankee Stadium in New York, which has been doubling as a Covid-19 vaccine site, fans had to show they were fully vaccinated or post a negative Covid test before passing through the turnstiles.
Not all of the Opening Day challenges were caused by a pandemic and politics, however. In one sign of early season normality, the Boston Red Sox were rained out and will have to wait another day to welcome fans back to Fenway Park for the first time in 18 months.