Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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M.L.B. Opening Day: Live Updates and Photos

Francisco Lindor has more home runs and more extra-base hits than any other shortstop since 2017.
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

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 believed that any more players have 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 has partnered with the Boys & Girls Club to create a community program in his hometown, Sarasota, Fla. 
Michael Adno for The New York Times

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.”

Michael Adno for The New York Times

Many teams finally got to play in front of fans again. Here’s what it looked like.

The Atlanta Braves played the Miami Marlins at home in October. Major League Baseball is facing calls to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta over Georgia’s new law that restricts access to voting.
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

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 Astros got a taste of fan resentment in spring training both this year and last, but on Thursday they’ll face a hostile regular season crowd for the first time since their cheating scheme was revealed.
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

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.

Rangers fans got a sneak peek at Globe Life Field during a pair of exhibition games on Monday and Tuesday.
Jonathan Zizzo for The New York Times

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.

Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals has 637 hits since 2017, the most of any player in the American League.
Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

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.

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