LOS ANGELES - Opening day, at last.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will take on the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium Thursday night.
For Major League Baseball, the season was on the brink before it ever began due to the virus outbreak.
The Dodgers enter into the 2020 60-game season as World Series favorites.
Amid the pandemic, ballparks will not have fans in attendance and players will be wearing masks. Add in piped-in sound effects, cardboard cutouts for spectators, spray-painted ads on the mound and pitchers with personal rosin bags.
The season also brings new rules which include designated hitters in the National League and an automatic runner on second base to start the 10th inning.
Opening day brings a tasty doubleheader: a marquee pitching matchup in Washington, followed by the nightcap at Dodger Stadium when star outfielder Mookie Betts, fresh off a $365 million, 12-year contract, and his new Los Angeles teammates take on the San Francisco Giants.
One player Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw won’t face: six-time All-Star, three-time champion and former MVP Buster Posey. The Giants catcher and his wife have adopted twin identical girls who were prematurely born, and he’s among about a dozen players who have chosen to sit out this year.
Dodgers pitcher David Price, Washington infielder Ryan Zimmerman and Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis also are sitting out.
MLB players traditionally haven’t been as outspoken as those in the NFL and NBA on social issues. Until this year, former Oakland catcher Bruce Maxwell was the only baseball player to take a knee before the national anthem — he did that in 2017 and felt it cost him a future spot in the majors.
New Giants manager Gabe Kapler and several of his players knelt during the national anthem before an exhibition game this week. A group of Reds did the same in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I wanted them to know that I wasn’t pleased with the way our country has handled police brutality and I told them I wanted to amplify their voices and I wanted to amplify the voice of the Black community and marginalized communities as well,” said Kapler, among 10 managers starting new jobs.
Said Yankees star Aaron Judge: “That’s the beauty of America, is freedom of speech and freedom to express yourself.”
“We got a special platform being athletes and being able to speak our mind and speak what’s going on in this world. Some people express it online. Some people express it with words. Some people kneel,” he said.
MLB players can put a patch with “Black Lives Matter” or “United For Change” on a jersey sleeve during opening day.
Didi Gregorius and Clint Frazier homered in exhibition games while wearing masks —those aren’t mandated on the field, but many other rules and guidelines are in place.
Social distancing in the dugout. Skip tossing the ball around the infield after strikeouts. Keep the Phillie Phanatic and mascots off the field.
No high-fives, either. Not a problem, Phillies slugger Bryce Harper said.
“I think the air high-five is going to come back and be the coolest thing in baseball this year and be the coolest thing in sports,” he said.
Still, a lot of protocols to keep in mind for players who’ve been doing things the same way since they were kids.
“Is it going to be perfect the very first day?” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Probably not.”
All those hoots and hisses the Houston Astros heard in March, they’re gone now. Some fans will claim the guys who took part in that sign-stealing scam are getting off easy, not feeling the wrath of crowds on the road.
MLB has issued stern warnings against any basebrawling this year. Even so, some Houston hitters might feel a little retribution — José Altuve, Alex Bregman and George Springer all got hit by pitches Tuesday night in Kansas City during the Astros’ final tuneup.
FOX 11's Kelli Johnson and Mario Ramirez contributed to this report.