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In with the new: What we expect in 2021

Ballpark Digest squareWelcome to the New Year! Let’s hope it doesn’t suck as 2020 did. Here’s what we are expecting as the baseball world prepares for what everyone hopes will be a rebound season.

Indeed, the theme right now when we look at 2021 is hope. We hope there will be some semblance of a 2021 MLB season. We hope Minor League Baseball returns. We hope college and summer-collegiate teams can play a full season. And we hope the economy bounces back to something approaching normalcy.

So hope does indeed spring eternal. At least at the start of 2021.

Are we predicting all our hopes will be fulfilled? The first draft of this article, began closer to the middle of December, saw the approval of vaccines and folks on better behaviors making a dent in COVID-19 infection rates. But with vaccines hitting the populace at a slower pace than anticipated and COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations remain at high levels, the likelihood of a normal 2021 remains remote. The MiLB season certainly won’t open on the second week of April: With a Professional Development License release delayed until early January and an extended period for teams to review it, we won’t see a final 120-team lineup and league assignments until February at the earliest. And given that even if MLB spring training opens around Valentine’s Day, you are unlikely to see MiLB players and coaches report until the beginning of April at the earliest, which means a May start to the season.

So do the chances of a normal 2021 college-baseball season: though Feb. 19 is opening day in the NCAA Division I schedule, no one expects that date to stand across the country. Sure, you may see SEC teams and other southern leagues begin play in February, but watch for most other leagues to put off their seasons until April, with the likes of the Big Ten eliminating nonconference play.

If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s that we live in largely improvised times, and what happens in baseball in 2021 will likely remain improvised as well. We surely will take steps toward normalcy, but those steps will be a slow-moving process.

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