Sports

The Blue Jays opened their shortened 2020 season in front of an empty Tropicana Field last Friday. Photo: Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Shortened 60-game season incorporating plethora of safety measures to protect players and staff from COVID-19

The Toronto Blue Jays are playing again, but their fans can’t see them live. The 2020 season won’t see any fans sitting in the bleachers at the Rogers Centre. No, this year, fans will be at home on their couches, watching Canada’s team on television, glad that sports are finally returning. 

Major League Baseball started playing last Thursday a shortened 60-game season incorporating a plethora of safety measures to protect both players and staff from COVID-19. Whether these health tactics work is yet to be seen, but it appears that the MLB is taking the problem very seriously. 

There have been some hiccups already, one instance of caution came with the temporary postponement of the Miami Marlins’ season. As of July 29, 15 members of the organization have tested positive for the virus, including nine players on the active roster.  Their season will be postponed to at least Sunday, cancelling the Marlins’ series against the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals. Even with all of the MLB safety protocol in place, there is still a risk for players, especially in the state of Florida, which is currently the North American epicentre for COVID-19 cases. With players and staff taking the virus seriously, it is more than likely that we will see more postponed games throughout the rest of the season.

With strange times comes strange solutions, and the MLB certainly has a few unusual solutions to making this season feel a bit more normal. The most prominent of which is the incorporation of fake crowd noise in empty MLB stadiums. Sound engineers at stadiums have around 75 potential crowd noise options that they are can press on their soundboard. Unfortunately, it seems that booing is not one of those noise options. It may seem odd to be upset about a no booing option, but if you’ve ever been to an MLB game, then you’ll understand that booing is an integral part of the baseball experience.

Another unconventional matter is the expanded MLB playoffs that will be taking place this season. It seems that with the shortened season, the MLB is scrambling to increase fan excitement. Let’s be honest though, what is more exciting than the possibility of your team making the playoffs? Who knows, maybe even the Jays have a chance to see playoff baseball with this new format. 

There will now be 16 teams making the playoffs in 2020 (eight teams from both the American and National league). Consistent with the 2012 playoff format rules, there will be four rounds; however, this year there is a twist. No longer will there be a single-elimination game for the Wild Card Game. Instead, the wild card series will consist of a best of three series. This is a gamechanger for the division winners who will no longer get time off between the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs while the wild card teams slug it out. There is a real possibility with this new format that an eight seed team could take out the number one seed. We could potentially witness the young Blue Jays team take out the juggernaut that is the New York Yankees in the first round.

Adding to the weirdness of an already weird MLB season, there is a universal Designated Hitter (DH) to the chagrin of many National League purists and teams will only play the same nine teams throughout the entire course of the season. MLB teams are also going to be playing 10 games against each of their divisional opponents. This schedule is specifically set up to reduce travel and to protect players. For Toronto, though, it is a bit more complicated. After being banned from playing games in Canada due to concerns over the travel of teams in and out of the country. The team announced on July 24th through their Twitter account, that they’ll be playing most of their home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., where their Triple-A affiliate the Buffalo Bisons normally play. 

Pandemic protocols, reduced schedules, and a new playoff system aside, many fans are just happy to see their favourite players back in uniform and on the field. At least now, we will finally have something else to ask our co-workers during Zoom meetings other than “have you seen Hamilton yet?”