- - Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Even Casey had fans in the stands. But not the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees, who open a patched up, somewhat unrecognizable 2020 season Thursday night at Nationals Park — nearly four months from the scheduled opening act.

Well, there will be at least one fan in the ballpark — Fauci on the Mound.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and … oh, heck, let’s just shorten it to national hero, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

They will likely pipe up the piped-in crowd noise for that moment — a sharp contrast to the reception President Trump received at the ballpark at Game 5 of the World Series in October.

Of course, that was with people in the stands. That was before the world changed forever because of a virus.

Imagine the piped-in crowd reaction if Trump were throwing out the first pitch Thursday night in an empty ballpark. The boos would likely be heard through the valley, in the dell, to the mountain and on the flat.

There will be a handful of media in the press box for the game. They won’t get anywhere near the field, or the players. All interviews and interactions will be done via video.

I won’t be one of them. I’ll be covering opening day for the first time since 1992 by television.

There was a time in this business, when the rules weren’t dictated by survival, when it was ethically unacceptable to cover a game while watching it on television.

Heck, we once fired a baseball writer for covering a game on television. Then again, he was covering the Orioles in Oakland from the hotel room in Oakland the paper had paid for as part of his expenses for the Orioles road trip.

That was when it was healthy to be at the ballpark — even in Oakland.

Now it is life-threatening to have “five thousand throats” together in the same place, rooting for Casey or Max Scherzer or Juan Soto. It’s not that great for the players, managers, coaches and other staff to be there, either, but the commissioner of baseball has deemed that this 60-game season is a necessary risk.

If I were a major league player, I would have as much confidence in the commissioner’s office protecting me as I would the White House.

Then again, if I were a major league player, at least I would have more testing available to me than most Americans — and certainly quicker results to make important life and death decisions.

Major League Baseball has come up with a 113-page manual to guard against coronavirus — no spitting, masks in the dugout, mandated six-feet distance away from the playing field, and confined to the hotel they are staying in on the road, among many other little and large rules for life.

That’s what they are — rules for life. No matter what the virus numbers say, the fear for players and their families is real, and with cause.

Ask Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman — a 6-foot-5, 230-pound 30-year-old All-Star — who was so sick from the virus he prayed, “Please don’t take me.”

You can be sure that there have been conversations in the kitchens and bedrooms of players with their wives about the risk they are taking to play — and when to come home and finish this foolhardy undertaking.

For some parts of the country, the rate of infection continues to skyrocket. For others that seemed under control, suddenly, like Maryland, the cases are going back up. And this is July. Wait until September, October.

Ask Thursday night’s star pitcher himself. Several weeks ago Fauci expressed “great concern” about the virus in the fall and winter months, which also happens to be flu season — the anticipated second wave.

I doubt that baseball, or any of the major sports, the NFL, the NBA or the NHL, will be able to finish what they start this season, particularly once real competition begins, though the NBA got good news with no positive tests so far in life inside the Disney bubble. The NBA and NHL, staying in one place and avoiding travel, may have more control.

If you are a baseball fan, what does all this mean? A 60-game season where the runner starts from second base at the start of each half inning when a game goes into extra innings. Does that sound like baseball or a television creation? Television, and the dollars it involves, after all, are the only reason the league is determined to pursue any of this risky behavior.

It’s Scherzer facing Gerrit Cole and it might as well be happening in an abandoned warehouse.

If I were a Nationals fan, once Fauci throws out the first pitch Thursday night, the only thing I would want to see is a table set up at home plate, with two chairs — one for Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and the other for franchise owner Mark Lerner — with a pen to sign Rizzo to a well-deserved five-year contract extension.

Then everyone can go home, stay safe, and feel good knowing that in 2021 and beyond, their team will likely continue to be among the winningest in baseball. Because come the end of October, Mike Rizzo’s contract is done in Washington.

Not feeling very well, are you?

“But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.”

Hear Thom Loverro Tuesdays and Thursdays on The Kevin Sheehan Podcast and Wednesday afternoons on Chad Dukes Vs. The World on 106.7 The Fan.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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