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Major League Baseball Begins The Pandemic-Shortened 2020 Season

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Believe it or not, it is time to play ball. Major League Baseball begins the strangest season ever tonight. You will recognize peak 2020 when I tell you that throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for this pandemic-shortened season is none other than Dr. Anthony Fauci in front of no fans here in Washington. And yet earlier today we learned that Juan Soto, a star player for the Washington Nationals, has tested positive for the coronavirus. He is going to miss the game tonight. Joining us via Skype is Evan Drellich of The Athletic. Welcome back.

EVAN DRELLICH: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So tonight's game is going forward, but we don't know who Juan Soto may have had contact with recently, which prompts the big question. How does Major League Baseball plan to keep everybody safe?

DRELLICH: They put out a 101-page document organizing all of their protocols for this kind of situation. But arguably, it still lacks some specificity. You're supposed to have two asymptomatic tests before you can return to play if you're a player like Juan Soto.

KELLY: OK.

DRELLICH: But if you're somebody who is not showing any symptoms, they're not going to keep those types of star players off the field, likely, in every situation. So if a group of doctors get together, they have a joint committee between the league and the players' union and say that a player is fit to return even if he's still testing positive, they might return to play sooner. So it's going to be very case-by-case, and it seems a little haphazard.

KELLY: OK. Well, let me turn you to what the season is going to look like. I mentioned it's shorter. It's not just shorter. It is way shorter - 60 games instead of the usual 162. Is this basically a sprint to the World Series?

DRELLICH: Yeah. And that's the exciting part if you're a fan. If you're looking for a silver lining in the fact that you don't get your normal 162 games, you do have a shortened race where teams that normally would fall out of it probably will stay in it. So if you're rooting for a team that was probably looking mediocre this year, you might have something to be happy about.

KELLY: (Laughter) Right. And speaking of the World Series, are they still going to have one? How's that going to work?

DRELLICH: Well, they just agreed to an expanded playoff system. So there will be a World Series this year assuming health and the pandemic does not interrupt the season. And instead of having 10 teams, which is what baseball had regularly before in the postseason, you're going to have 16 teams. So it's the most teams...

KELLY: Wow.

DRELLICH: ...That have ever made a single postseason in baseball. And that's partly money-driven, frankly. That allows the players and the owners to get more money out of this year when they're already going to lose a lot of money compared to normal years.

KELLY: Sure. Just in the moments we have left, I wonder what you are expecting, how strange it's going to be to watch baseball in a totally empty stadium.

DRELLICH: It'll be absolutely bizarre. You're going to have players sitting not just in the dugout but around the dugout. Guys won't be able to spit. They're not going be able to use sunflower seeds. They're not going to be able to high-five. The whole product is...

KELLY: Yeah.

DRELLICH: ...Going to look different on broadcast. You're going to have people virtually in the stands. They're going to do some CGI and some graphics. So the whole thing is going to be very strange, but hey; at least it's some baseball.

KELLY: Well, at least they are playing baseball. That's Evan Drellich of The Athletic. Thanks so much.

DRELLICH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.