My most unusual season of covering baseball is over. For the final six Oriole games, I’ll join you in watching them on television.
I saw 45 games, more than I anticipated because three games scheduled to be played in Miami and Tampa Bay were relocated to Baltimore after postponements. Although the season wasn’t entirely satisfying, it wasn’t awful.
The Orioles were energized by the additions of Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Ryan Mountcastle. It was enjoyable to see Ellicott City’s Bruce Zimmermann make his first start on Thursday, but I kept looking down to the stands, and tried to picture how it would have looked with his family and friends in attendance.
I never got used to the pumped-in crowd noise, which often didn’t come at the right time. I did enjoy hearing chatter. Every game, I’d hear a fielder yell, “got it, got it, got it” to call for a fly ball.
In Washington, after a late-inning Anthony Santander home run, I could make out Miguel Castro cheering in the Orioles’ bullpen. The press box is located near the top of Nationals Park, and it was amazing to hear Castro from so far away.
I’d never actually heard an umpire eject anyone until this year. Will Little threw out Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long. “You’re outta here,” he yelled.
After a rain delay in Philadelphia, crew chief Bill Welke barked at the grounds crew: “5:40.” That’s the time he wanted the game to start. It started at 5:44.
It was a year of new rules and procedures, most of which I liked. It seems that the seven-inning doubleheaders, which have long been a minor league staple, are a one-off.
I can’t imagine the Yankees, Cubs or Red Sox giving up a packed house, so I think the day/night doubleheaders return in 2021.
While other sports expanded their game-day rosters, baseball stayed at 25 for decades. This year, the roster limit was supposed to be set at 26, but when the short season began, there were 30 players, later reduced to 28.
I hope that number stays with perhaps two additions in September. Having extra bullpen arms and position players makes for a better game.
I hadn’t seen the automatic runner on second to begin an extra inning, but I quickly became a fan. Instead of watching players try to end an extra-inning game with a single swing, it was fun to see bunting and the five-man infield employed to win a game
In the first Orioles extra-inning game, there was the first leadoff double play in baseball history. Austin Hays had a leadoff two-run inside-the-park home run in Philadelphia, and there was a wacky one when pitchers Jonathan Holder for the Yankees and Travis Lakins for the Orioles began the inning as automatic runners.
Both the Yankees and Orioles had exhausted their position players, and lost the designated hitter. Holder and Lakins each scored a run. Holder was the winner, Lakins the loser. To make it even stranger, it was a seven-inning doubleheader, and the pitchers ran in the second extra inning, which was actually the ninth.
I’d love to see a more compact travel schedule. Regular games each year with the Mets and Phillies would be welcome to go along with the annual contests with the Nationals.
The coverage of the games wasn’t as enjoyable as in the past. Most games, there were just four of us in the press box: David Ginsburg of the Associated Press, Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com and Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun. Others came occasionally, and a number of former regulars weren’t there because of health reasons.
Interviews were conducted on Zoom, which made it easy to work from home before a game if I chose, and I often did, but the personal contact with players, coaches and managers was missing.
Other than chance meetings at grocery stores or gas stations or when exiting the park, there was no personal contact with any Oriole.
I’ve never met Jorge López nor Carson Fulmer and, because of an abbreviated spring training, had limited encounters with Lakins, Bryan Holaday, José Iglesias and Cole Sulser. I got to know the rookies in their minor league careers or during spring training.
Zoom interviews were plentiful and welcome, providing lots of material, but missed was the opportunity to do stories of your own in the clubhouse or surveys requiring multiple player responses.
The most hilarious moment on Zoom came after Kremer’s debut when an Israeli journalist filibustered for nearly two minutes before he actually asked a question. I had my head in my hands, doubled over in laughter.
I missed the fans and my nightly walk around the ballpark after dinner and the search for Jersey of the Night. For those who’ve asked, that will return when fans do.
Despite the heavy skepticism, Major League Baseball has managed to pull off a regular season that was less bumpy as it went along. After the initial Marlins and Cardinals Covid-19 outbreaks, everyone seemed to pull together and follow the procedures, as unpleasant as they were.
I got used to wearing a mask for hours at a time and, as it’s gotten cooler, I’ve forgotten it’s on.
I missed the socializing with other writers and people around baseball in media dining rooms and tried to bring a variety of meals to the press box. For doubleheaders, Chinese food was ideal. I could have some dishes for lunch before Game 1, and others for Game 2.
I’ve already made reservations for spring training in Sarasota next February, hoping that we’ll have a healthy country and normal baseball environment by then.
I can always hope.