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Week In Sports: Major League Baseball Begins With Shortened Season

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Play ball, finally. Opening Day in July certainly is strange. These are strange times we live in. The World Series champion Washington Nationals kick things off in D.C. against the Yankees with Dr. Anthony Fauci throwing out the first pitch in a stadium devoid of fans. Joining me now to talk about this is our good friend ESPN's Howard Bryant. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Leila. How are you?

FADEL: I'm doing well - as well as you can be. We knew the stadium would be vacant, but still, how weird was it to see all those empty seats on TV?

BRYANT: Well, the seats weren't all empty because now Major League Baseball - a lot of the teams are using cutouts, which some people seem to love and some people actually hate. I think they're kind of cute in some ways. I think it's kind of clever, some way to try to break it up. And I think that this is - the movement of having them sort of be for, you know, charity and gives people some sort of idea that there's a little bit of normalcy.

But at least they're playing. And I think that is the one thing that people really sort of lean to is that you've actually got live sports right now. You've got live baseball. You've got it for the last - had it for the last two days - big sprint 60-game season. Basketball's coming next week. And the hockey bubble up in Canada is going to start up on August 1 as well. So for as long as it lasts, we're going to actually see some live sports for the first time since March.

FADEL: But right off the bat - pun intended - the virus impacted the players. Nats star Juan Soto was scratched because he tested positive for the virus. Kind of makes you wonder if they will even be able to make it through this abbreviated 60-game season.

BRYANT: Hundred percent. And the number of texts that I've gotten from players saying, why are we doing this? And then, of course, you've got the number of texts from players also saying, how are we going to get through this? And you look at the players that - it's already affected the sport because you've got players who have opted out. Ian Desmond opted out of the Rockies. David Price had already opted out of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Eduardo Rodriguez, the starter for the Red Sox, has complications from COVID, and so he's not playing. And he is a very interesting and strong reminder that this zero-sum conversation about, well, if it doesn't kill you, then you'll be fine eventually - he betrays that because he's really, really struggling right now, and he's a professional athlete, a world-class athlete. So a good example not to take this - take it lightly at all.

FADEL: So, of course, beyond the pandemic, the other huge event impacting the national pastime and the country is the movement for racial justice, for Black lives. Before the national anthem at the Nats-Yankee game, the players stood and all held onto a long, black ribbon. No one kneeled during the anthem. What did you think?

BRYANT: Well, I thought these - all these conversations have been very interesting compromises. You've had the Yankees and the Nationals kneel before the - before the anthem. With the Dodgers and the Giants, you had players such as Mookie Betts and Gabe Kapler, the manager and - of the Giants, and Pablo Sandoval of the Giants kneeling during the anthem. With the Red Sox and the Orioles, you had players kneeling during the anthem. You had the Red Sox playing the Negro national anthem following the national anthem.

I appreciated the idea to make this about social justice, but this really was about the memory of George Floyd, and I think that the players made a bit of a mistake in making it about more than that. There was one moment where the teams were paying attention to this, and I think that it should've stayed on where we're at right now.

FADEL: That's ESPN's Howard Bryant. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.