Normal put on hold in 2021

In case you thought baseball would get back to normal in 2021, and I have no idea why you’d assume so, please consider the following:

Each team is appointing at least one facemask enforcement officer and automatic fines will be issued for non-compliance during games, with fines collected donated to charity.

I remember when a bench coach was a new idea.

Face coverings must be worn except for players on the field for games or warmups. Then it’s optional.

I’m amused whenever a see a report that fighting is “forbidden” or “prohibited.” This isn’t the NHL. Umpires don’t stand around and wait for the combatants to grow tired or for someone to deliver a knockout punch.

It’s always been frowned upon in this establishment.

The point, of course, is that fighting violates social distancing. Throwing a punch gets you a slap on the wrist.

Thumbnail image for Hyde-Mask-Camden-Yards-Stands-Sidebar.jpgManagers and players need to stay more than six feet away while arguing with umpires. Violators are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.

Can you imagine Earl Weaver trying to manage in 2020 and 2021?

Spinning his cap backward would prevent him from using the bill for social distancing.

Major League Baseball and the union will revisit the health and safety protocols throughout the season to consider whether enhancements or relaxations of certain rules “are appropriate based on experience or changes in circumstances.” The pandemic is still running the show.

Media could regain its previous access later in the summer, but the 2021 season will begin as 2020 concluded. Go directly to the press box, do not pass go (or the clubhouse), do not collect COVID.

The season is back to a full 162 games, but it will Zoom right by you.

For purely selfish reasons, I’m fine with seven-inning doubleheaders and the runner on second base in extra innings. And I’m not talking strategy as much as reducing the length of the nights spent working.

You just have to adjust how you watch a doubleheader. When to expect the setup man and closer to become factors. As managers had to do last year.

If you’re worried about trying to score against a team’s bullpen, there’s a greater sense of urgency to avoid falling behind in the early innings. You could be toast by the fifth.

Bunting drills are more important now with the free runner in extras. Move him to third base and hope for a fly ball or well-placed grounder. Simple execution. Don’t overthink it.

Weaver would have played for the two-run homer.

Haters of the changes should find their own relief in the probability that the sport returns to is previous form in 2022.

I’d be more worried about players going on strike.

* I always refer to Associated Press reporter David Ginsburg as “my brother from another mother.” He’s probably eluded any references in this blog until this morning, but I mention him because he’s retiring after 37 years. He’s done after tonight’s Minnesota-Maryland men’s basketball game in College Park.

“Ginz,” as he’s affectionately known, has written about almost every major milestone or event in the state in pretty much every sport, but it’s more about the laughs and memories for me. Our annual trek to South Beach during the one off-day of spring training in Fort Lauderdale - I’d pick him up at his hotel and off we’d go - and how we tweaked it each year until we achieved perfection.

The ideal parking spot on Clark Street and area to set up in front of Wet Willie’s. The cooler with sandwiches that enabled us to keep soaking up the sun. The drive back one year when I rented a convertible, forgot that I agreed to an interview with a Delaware radio station and tried to do it anyway. The wind alone must have made it impossible to hear me.

The cigar didn’t help, either. And don’t ask how I kept it lit.

The move to Sarasota, Fla., ended that tradition, especially with AP no longer sending anyone to cover spring training. We used to say that our trips were like a television series and the credits eventually would roll and we’d be canceled. This was a few years after we spotted two elderly men walking toward us at South Beach, Ginz commented how that would be us someday and I replied, “God willing.”

We met randomly while covering the NCAA men’s basketball East Regional tournament in Richmond, Va., in 1996. I remember walking up to this total stranger wearing tinted glasses in the media workroom, nervous about my big assignment after years of covering preps, to ask a question. Amazingly, he also remembers that brief interaction.

Texas Tech’s Darvin Ham caused a lengthy delay in the first game after shattering the backboard on a dunk against North Carolina. (My lede for The Baltimore Sun read: “A backboard wasn’t all that came crashing down around North Carolina yesterday” I was fairly proud of that one, especially on a tight deadline.)

Georgetown coach John Thompson berated a television guy in the pregame media session for asking about Allen Iverson’s arrest in high school, letting the room go silent and then screaming at him again.

“He’s just a kid! What’s wrong with you?”

Ginz and I still laugh about how uncomfortable it was - those pauses between rants feeling like they lasted a week - but we mainly talk about our first interaction. A couple of University of Maryland grads who would become rivals on the tennis court and best friends both on and off.

So much like family that my parents would invite him to dinner every summer while we were in Ocean Pines (his folks also had a house there.) We’d eat copious amounts of food, smoke a cigar and sip a cocktail outside on the patio and watch the All-Star Game. His bathroom break one night, right before leaving, had my Dad promising to build an outhouse for him.

Few things in life make my mother happier than watching someone enjoy her cooking. Ginz brought great joy to the household. He’s an eating machine.

Our families also would meet at the beach and I’d make the same joke about Ginz, his body covered with hair, being more vulnerable to a brush fire than a sunburn. He’d tease me about my reluctance to go in the cold water, his son, Jarren, calling me “10 Piece” because I was chicken.

Ginz was one of the first people I told about my father’s cancer diagnosis and one of the first to receive a text when he passed away. The tears were shared.

He’ll make the occasional appearance in the Camden Yards press box as an AP fill-in, but not having him there for the bulk of the games is going to leave a tremendous void in my life. He provided comedic balance and perspective when I was at my most stressed. And not only relating to my job.

The perfect friend. Brutally honest, always available for counseling and comfort, always able to take a joke and dish it right back like Iverson on a fast break.

I shouldn’t talk about him in the past tense. We’ll still have our summer tennis matches and hopefully more days at the beach. But losing him on the Orioles beat definitely hurts. Shattered like the backboard.

His career should be celebrated today.

His strategy of hitting the ball to my backhand should be cursed.

His willingness to help out a stranger in a media workroom in Richmond, so typical of his generosity, sparked a relationship that I’ll cherish forever. My brother from another mother. And nothing, even retirement, will change that.

God willing.

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