Major League Baseball leads the sports’ scene back onto the field this afternoon. Not one of America’s national sports organizations has held an event since the destruction of the World Trade Center Tuesday, and college football and the NFL have until next weekend to prepare, so baseball is faced with the unprecedented task of reintroducing fans to the game.
Commissioner Bud Selig postponed Tuesday’s baseball games about three hours after the attack, then announced teams wouldn’t play Wednesday or Thursday either, before finally deciding today would be the “most appropriate time” to resume.
In all, 91 games will need to be made up at the end of the year, extending the regular season by one week.
The 14 cities hosting series-opening games Monday and Tuesday are planning as many different events as there are teams to remember the tragedies of Sept. 11. In addition, the MLB logo sewn on all player caps and jerseys will be replaced by an American-flag patch.
MLB issued the patches as an effort to symbolize patriotic support. At the commissioners’ office in Manhattan, MLB Senior Vice President Howard Smith said the symbolism is important.
“Living in New York, we are so much more a part of this,” Smith said. “This thing is much bigger than the game. It’s not about a return to normalcy. And the best way to portray that is cover up the MLB logo with the flag.”
Batting helmets and bases will also be marked with the flag, and stadiums will hand out miniature flags to fans upon admission.
For fans, the most memorable moment of these first games is sure to be the rendition of the national anthem. The usually-routine ritual will obviously take on added emotional meaning as the country embraces the emblematic song.
That moment is expected to draw capacity crowds most everywhere today. Americans and baseball fans will be looking for a reminder of national unity to help them adjust as life returns to normal — baseball’s resumption a significant part of that feeling.
Players too are ready to take the field again. Baseball observers are saying that the pulse around the leagues has been one of excitement. As teams resumed workouts late last week, many felt the practices had the feel of spring training.
That does not necessarily mean that once things are up and running again, the season will feel like a fresh start. The Seattle Mariners are 17 games ahead of the Oakland A’s in the AL West, and Barry Bonds is just eight home runs shy of breaking Mark McGwire’s season record. The Minnesota Twins, however, have slumped since the All-Star break, and the delay might be an opportunity to turn fortunes around once more.
Four of the pennant races are within 6 games, and the excitement of the chase will grip baseball in the coming weeks. For now, players are more focused on providing an appropriate memorial for the 5,000 or so victims and acting as a glue to help hold the country together.
“I think we’re the national pastime of the United States of America,” Texas pitcher Rick Helling said. “I think President Bush wants to show who did this that it’s not going to disrupt our way of life. People need time to get over it, but baseball being the national pastime, it will be good for the country and good for morale. It would show the people who did it, life goes on in America.”
Part of the effort to preserve national confidence lies in maintaining a safe atmosphere during the games. Security was a major issue in consideration about when to resume play, and Kevin Hallinan, MLB senior vice president for security, assures sufficient measures will be in place.
“We are going to have increased police presence at each park to ensure security,” Hallinan said. “But, other than that, it should be pretty much the same. Much of the work will be done before the fans get there in making sure that the ballpark is closely inspected and completely safe for everyone.”
He added that cost was never an issue in safety discussions. The importance that security not interfere with the fans’ enjoyment of the game was important to Hallinan because that allows the measures to be in place into the postseason.
Rescheduling the missed games for Oct. 1-7 pushes the playoffs back as well. A World Series game has never been played later than Oct. 28, including 1989 when an earthquake delayed game 3 for 12 days. Now, a November championship celebration seems in the picture.