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Baseball’s long-anticipated Opening Day left much to be desired

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 7/25/2020 By Bruce Jenkins
Rain and lightning halted Thursday’s game between the Yankees and Nationals in Washington, D.C., in the top of the sixth inning. © Andrew Harnik / Associated Press

Rain and lightning halted Thursday’s game between the Yankees and Nationals in Washington, D.C., in the top of the sixth inning.

Let’s have the cutouts decide. Raise a hand if you felt baseball’s Opening Day was a pleasant distraction from coronavirus concerns. Do nothing if you found it to be comprehensively disturbing.

Just as we suspected. The cutouts froze. We suspect the majority of actual people feel the same way.

If you’re willing to cast aside all the things that did not remind you of baseball, here’s to your admirable spirit. You’ll be a big reason this risky project has any chance to maintain credibility. But as a public service, let’s recap Thursday’s developments:

• Fewer than five hours before the first pitch in Washington, D.C., the Nationals announced that Juan Soto, a key to their World Series championship team and one of the game’s brightest young stars, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

• Just 2½ hours before game time, MLB had frantically scrambled itself into a new postseason format, featuring 16 teams instead of the usual 10.

• The Toronto Blue Jays did not have a home field — a predicament that stretched into Friday, when it was announced they would play at their Triple-A ballpark in Buffalo, N.Y.

• Just as Commissioner Rob Manfred was being interviewed by ESPN, there was a bolt of lightning in the distance — it appeared to be landing right above his shoulder — leading to an epic rainstorm in Washington that resulted in the game called off with one out in the top of the sixth inning.

• Does this make sense, in the dugouts? If you’re not in the game, you’re wearing a mask. If you’re in the game, no need.

• At both Nationals Park and Dodger Stadium, there were loud public-address announcements of each team’s rosters before the start of the game. For whom was this done, exactly? Total nonsense.

• Similarly, national anthems will be played strictly for the people in uniform. This is a complicated issue as it regards sporting events, with passionate arguments on both sides. But aside from people at home who feel a surge of patriotism, this serves only to put players in position to make a political statement.

In the Giants’ case, it was during a moment of silence — meant to support Black Lives Matter — that Sam Coonrod chose to be the only player on either team who declined to kneel. Perhaps there will be no conflict in the Giants’ clubhouse in the wake of his controversial explanation, but the incident stands to represent what many players will experience if they take a contrary viewpoint.

Interesting, too, to witness Mookie Betts’ stance on the Dodgers’ side that night. “Soulful renditions of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ do nothing to show you’re still willing to fight racism,” wrote African American columnist LZ Granderson in the Los Angeles Times. “Especially when the only Dodger taking a knee during that rendition is the only Black Dodger on the field.”

Farcical idea dismissed

The expanded postseason is all about additional television revenue: some $350 million for MLB and a $50 million player pool to be distributed after each round. It was only a rumor, thank goodness, that the division winners would be able to choose their first-round opponents, complete with a glitzy “selection show.” Seeding will be based on records. ... Imagine being a member of the Blue Jays. Under the strict pandemic requirements in Canada, they originally were destined to spend the entire season at a Toronto hotel near the ballpark. Now, with coronavirus cases surging throughout the country, they’ll spend it all on the road. The Buffalo Bisons’ park was originally ruled out because of poor lighting, inadequate clubhouses and other marginal conditions. Now a hurry-up refurbishing has begun. ... There’s no way of pinpointing the ramifications of Soto’s positive test. He turned up negative in follow-up tests, but so many questions remain unanswered: Where’s the accuracy? If he was actually infected, when did that take place? How might this involve those recently in close contact with him? Here’s some clarity, though, from manager Dave Martinez: “It didn’t have to be Juan Soto. It could have been any of our guys. And then reality sets in: We’re in the midst of a pandemic.”

Let’s just say this about all the radical changes in play this year: universal DH, three-batter minimum for relief pitchers, starting a runner on second base in extra innings, more postseason games: Whether you address them individually or as a group, none of it will attract new fans. Got that, MLB? Flat zero. It’s still baseball, at its deliberate pace, and it’s not for everyone. You’ve only alienated a fair amount of longtime fans, wondering what happened to the game they remember. ... The feeling here: Disgust — but ride with it. See where it all goes. The season-long debates will be compelling. ... A couple of readers wondered if the 3-Dot has switched stance on cutouts (original take: “ludicrous”). Yes. There could be delightful creativity in play. Who’s to argue with people having fun? ... We were among the many pundits suggesting MLB just drop instant replay this year, then make some major adjustments over the winter. No such luck. On the very first day of televised baseball, Saturday’s Yankees-Mets exhibition, Yoenis Cespedes was incorrectly ruled safe as he tried to beat out a groundball. The first replay made it quite clear. Nearly three minutes later, after the Three Stooges (umpires) conferred with the Replay Operations Center, the ruling came down. ... In Tuesday night’s Giants-A’s exhibition at Oracle Park, Chad Pinder hit a shot that barely reached the first rows of the right-field arcade. Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper confirmed “home run” after the first replay. Not only did 2:50 elapse before the umpires’ ruling, they got it wrong. Isn’t that special?

Bruce Jenkins is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: bjenkins@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Bruce_Jenkins1

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