Rob Manfred tries to paint a rosy picture for MLB fans ahead of Opening Day

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t sure when the 2020 season will begin or what it will look look, but says “nothing’s off the table.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has a message for fans missing the game: Baseball will be back.

The 2020 season was supposed to begin on Thursday afternoon. Instead, due to the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down normal life in the United States, all 30 MLB stadiums stand empty. Manfred, though, in an interview with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, attempted to alleviate the anxiety of fans who fear the season may never begin at all.

“The one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back,” he said. “Whenever it’s safe to play, we’ll be back. Our fans will be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country from this particular pandemic.”

Manfred went back to his own experience to show the power of baseball to unify the country. In 2001, 10 days after the September 11 attacks, he was at Shea Stadium when the Mets played their first game in New York since the tragedy and won on Mike Piazza’s eighth-inning home run. It was, he said, one of the most memorable games he’s ever attended.

He may be confident a season can be played this year, but what kind of season is still very much an open question. Manfred says he wants to begin preparations by the middle of May. But some club officials, like Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, believe the league will need a four-week training camp. That will push the start of the season into June, and that is only the most optimistic scenario. One thing is sure: if there is a 2020 season, it won’t look like any other from the past two decades.

“We’re probably not gonna be able to do a 162-game season. I think that’s clear,” Manfred said. “Nothing’s off the table for us right now. I think we are open, and we’ve had some really positive conversations with our players’ association about relaxing some of the rules that govern our schedule.”

The league will need to be creative in order to cram some semblance of a season into a tight time frame. In the spirit of Ernie Banks and his desire to “Let’s play two,” having each club play regular double-headers is being discussed. So is holding the World Series in a warm-weather neutral site if the year extends into the winter in northern markets.

MLB has resorted to playing a reduced schedule before. In 1972, a labor strike postponed the start of the season by nearly two weeks. As a result, some teams played as few as 153 games. A strike in the middle of 1981 caused the season to be split into two halves, each team playing a little more than 100 games. And in 1995, the same strike that forced the cancellation of the 1994 World Series wasn’t resolved until April, leading the league to go to a 144-game schedule.

If and when the 2020 season begins, it will serve as a tangible symbol that the country has overcome the pandemic and life is returning to normal. Baseball served as an instrument to bring the country together before; Manfred is hopefully it could do it again.

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