In less than two months, Twins pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Fort Myers, Fla., with the dawn of the new season and all its possibilities in front of them.
But if manager Rocco Baldelli has learned anything from 2020, it’s to not get too attached to anything. The 2020 baseball season, which was 60 games and began in late July, required a lot of flexibility and adapting on the go from all involved. And while things are progressing in the right direction as COVID-19 vaccinations have just begun, it’s impossible to predict what the 2021 season will look like.
As it sits in mid-December, Baldelli and the Twins are preparing for a 162-game season beginning April 1 in Milwaukee, all while knowing that might not happen.
“I’m planning on playing 162 games and being in spring training at the typical early-February time, but if we have to adjust, we’re going to adjust,” Baldelli said. “That’s the way we’ve had to approach everything. If we get really attached to anything in the 2020-2021 seasons, you’re setting yourself up for some kind of disappointment.”
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported earlier this week that the league’s executive and owners would like the season to be delayed, allowing time for players to get vaccinated before beginning while the MLB Players Association would like to move ahead with a 162-game schedule, something it feels confident can happen after adapting to all the health and safety protocols put in place in 2020.
Nightengale sourced two owners — an American League and a National League owner — both of whom expressed skepticism that spring training would begin in February on schedule.
The two sides had a drawn-out negotiation earlier this year about the length of the 2020 season and compensation, which ultimately ended after the MLBPA rejected a proposal from the league and the commissioner unilaterally set a 60-game schedule.
No matter what happens with the length of the season or the start date, many questions must be answered surrounding the vaccine in the coming months: Will players be required to get one? What will procurement of vaccines look like? And what happens if a player (or multiple players) refuses?
Though he doesn’t know when it will be, Baldelli said he planned on getting vaccinated.
“In a very straightforward sense, we know different people think very differently about vaccinations, but we also know that the world is a much safer place because of vaccinations in a lot of ways, and this may be one of those instances,” Baldelli said. “And truthfully, I hope that it’s completely safe and allows us to function and improve our lives in a lot of different ways.”
While next season likely will begin with many of the same protocols as the 2020 season had in place, there’s hope that by later in the season, things will start to look more normal in many respects. As more of the population starts to get vaccinated, teams will once again be able to let fans back into ballparks. And for players, coaches and staff, some of the tight restrictions that were put into place to control potential outbreaks might start to be eased as the country’s public health situation improves.
“I’m optimistic and smiling at the thought of our country going in a better direction with better health and vaccinations coming into play and not having to function exactly the way we did last year,” Baldelli said.