Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Oakland Athletics Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Scottdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Oakland Athletics Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Scottdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Welcome back, fans! MLB openers bring stars, hope and crowds

Crowd sizes will vary around the majors

Great to see ya, Buster Posey. Been a while, Tony La Russa. Good luck, Madison Bumgarner and every other National League pitcher toting a bat.

From Comerica Park to Coors Field to the Coliseum, Major League Baseball is set to roll out a big welcome mat Thursday.

Most of all, this opening day, it’ll be for the fans.

When Gerrit Cole throws the first pitch of the season — weather permitting — nearly 11,000 people could be at Yankee Stadium. Healthcare workers will celebrated, and everyone will sit in socially distanced seats and wear masks, inside a park that will continue to operate as a mass coronavirus vaccination site.

Far from normal. But after a year in which fans weren’t permitted at any regular-season game because of COVID-19 protocols, no longer will “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” strangely echo around empty ballparks during the seventh-inning stretch.

“That’s how it’s supposed to be, I think,” said Bumgarner, ready to start for the Arizona Diamondbacks against Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres.

“That’s what we’re doing. It’s an entertainment business. We’re all playing a game and competing and everyone’s got their team they pull for or just likes watching the game in general,” he said.

Missing opening day, however, will be five players on the Washington Nationals. One of them tested positive for the virus this week — remember, last year Nats star Juan Soto had the virus and missed the opener.

“Everybody across the game — we had seen so few positive cases across spring training as a whole,” Nationals ace Max Scherzer said. “It just shows you how quickly that can turn. It can turn on a dime. We have to face it, and we have to overcome it.”

Crowd sizes will vary around the majors.

At Fenway Park, where Xander Bogaerts and the Boston Red Sox host Baltimore, 12% of capacity will be allowed. At Globe Life Field in Texas, where the Rangers open Monday, a full 100% will be permitted.

The Rangers didn’t have any fans in their $1.2 billion palace that opened last year during the pandemic-shortened 60-game season. But 11,000 spectators were inside the Arlington, Texas, park when Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat Tampa Bay in MLB’s first neutral-site World Series.

Boosted by signing NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, the pitching-rich Dodgers start in Colorado, trying to become the first repeat champions since the New York Yankees in 1998-2000.

Kershaw gets the opener against the Rockies, while Bauer goes in the second game.

“I’m pumped up for it. Especially pumped up to get back in front of the LA fans for my first home start,” Bauer said.

“This is going to be cool, putting on the Dodger uniform, playing with this group of guys. I’m really pumped up that baseball is back, especially now that we get to have fans in the stands,” he said.

How many will actually be in the box seats and bleachers on April Fools’ Day might depend on the weather.

Rain is forecast early in the day for Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Same in Washington, too, where a marquee matchup is waiting at Nationals Park: Two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom of the Mets faces Scherzer, a three-time Cy champ.

Temperatures are supposed to be in the 30s with gusty winds at Wrigley Field when Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs host Pittsburgh. Also in the low 30s in Detroit, where Cleveland ace Shane Bieber faces the Tigers, and chilly in Cincinnati, where the Reds take on St. Louis newcomer Nolan Arenado.

Jack Flaherty pitches for the Cardinals. Two teammates from his Southern California high school a decade ago also start on opening day — Max Fried for the Braves in Philadelphia and Lucas Giolito for the Chicago White Sox against Mike Trout and rejuvenated two-way star Shohei Ohtani at Angel Stadium.

Arenado and Bauer are among the many stars who switched teams in the off-season. The Padres acquired Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, the Mets traded for Francisco Lindor, the White Sox added closer Liam Hendriks and the Yankees hope low-risk moves for Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon pay off.

Some teams will benefit from getting their own players back on the field.

Posey of the Giants, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nats, David Price of the Dodgers and Marcus Stroman of the Mets were among those who opted out of playing last year because of coronavirus concerns.

A six-time All-Star and three-time World Series champ, Posey liked what he saw in spring training.

“Watching the games on TV last year and seeing just cardboard fans in the stands, it was definitely nice to see some live humans out there,” he said.

A more curious sight: La Russa, at 76 years old and already in the Hall of Fame, returning to manage the fortified White Sox. His last time in the dugout was 2011, in a World Series Game 7 win for the Cardinals.

Alex Cora, who guided Boston to the 2018 crown, rejoins the Red Sox while AJ Hinch takes over the Tigers. Both managers were suspended last year for their roles in the 2017 Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.

Also around the bases:

THE GROUND RULES

Some of the experiments that debuted last season are back: seven-inning doubleheaders, automatic runners at second base to start extra innings. The expanded playoff field is back to 10 teams, down from 16. And the designated hitter in the National League is gone. That means pitchers who usually flail away will try to make contact after a year layoff. The DH could become permanent in the NL next season. In the meantime, those pitchers could get help on the mound as MLB is trying out a slightly deadened baseball that supposedly doesn’t fly quite so far.

DEBUTS

Supremely qualified, Kim Ng finally got her chance and begins the season with the Miami Marlins as MLB’s first female general manager. “Failure is not an option for me,” the 52-year-old Ng said. … Forced out of Canada because of the virus, the Toronto Blue Jays will play their home opener April 8 at their spring training field in Dunedin, Florida — about 1,275 fans will be allowed at 8,500-seat TD Ballpark.

MISSING

White Sox slugger Eloy Jiménez, Toronto newcomer George Springer, Rays reliever Nick Anderson and 2020 home run champ Luke Voit all got injured during spring training. Aces Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard and Mike Clevinger are recovering from major surgery. Robinson Canó is serving a season-long drug suspension and Masahiro Tanaka went home to pitch in Japan. Nick Markakis, Alex Gordon, Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy and Dustin Pedroia retired and Ryan Braun says he’s leaning that way.

___

Ben Walker, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusMLB

Just Posted

(File photo from The Canadian Press)
Red Deer down to 66 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer has lowest number of active cases since last November

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

A pair of Alberta residents were arrested after police responded to a report of a woman who had allegedly been assaulted and confined against her will on June 20, 2021. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP arrest 2 Albertans suspected in alleged assault, unlawful confinement

Firearms, stolen items seized including NHL hockey cards believed to be worth thousands

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctors urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

Most Read