Amid a continuing global pandemic, Major League Baseball’s spring training camps swung into action last week with players reporting to Florida’s Grapefruit League and Arizona’s Cactus League. Pitchers and catchers arrived on February 17, with all others reporting on Monday.
After a 60-game regular season with spring training aborted at the mid-way point — all due to health and safety concerns related to COVID-19 — the 2021 MLB campaign looks to be a fresh start. But even so, with the coronavirus as widespread and deadly as ever, MLB is taking nothing for granted. They better not. This week the United States surpassed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, the highest death toll in the world.
Having learned the lessons of 2020, MLB, in accordance with CDC guidelines, will continue its policies of social distancing, using face masks, hand sanitizing, frequent testing, and isolating players, coaches and team personnel who test positive. Additionally, players, coaches and staff will be confined to their respective hotel rooms when not at the ballpark.
While a ballplayer’s spring training regime will be drastically altered, what will it be like for the average fan? Will they or won’t they be allowed to attend practices or games?
Right now in Arizona, where the Milwaukee Brewers train, one out of eight residents have the coronavirus and the danger for transmission is high. In Florida, things aren’t much better. Given that, it is doubtful that ballparks will be allowed to fill to capacity. However, it may be possible to admit a certain percentage.
As for attendance during the regular season, the Brewers have submitted a proposal to the Milwaukee County Board to allow American Family Field, formally Miller Park, to fill up to 35% capacity. As of press time, the board has yet to rule.
With spring training underway, the countdown to opening day has commenced. When that day arrives, for the first time in years, the Brewers will — in all probability — be without the services of Ryan Braun. To date, Braun, a free agent, is not in camp. Nor is he expected to be. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Braun is “presumably planning on retiring”.
With the absence of Braun in the starting lineup, Milwaukee’s only legitimate power threat is Christian Yelich. But with no one to protect him in the lineup, pitchers can afford to work around his strength, forcing him to fish outside his comfort zone.
Given that scenario, Milwaukee must either come up with a slugger or two or reverse the current MLB trend of swinging from the heels in an all-or-nothing attempt at the longball. Instead the Brewers must swing for contact, putting the ball in play. After all, you don’t have to hit the ball out of the park to score runs and win games. Base hits, bunts, stolen bases and sacrifice flies combined with tight defense and sound pitching will get the job done nicely. With the current roster in camp, the Brewers are built for this approach. Without question, small ball is the ticket to the team’s success.