WASHINGTON, DC — Dr. Anthony Fauci will throw out the first pitch Thursday when Major League Baseball begins an abbreviated season, with the World Series champions Washington Nationals hosting the
irector of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a diehard Nationals fan, has emerged as the nation’s leading voice on the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
The game, scheduled to start at 7:08 p.m. ET, begins a 60-game season schedule for every team, compared with the normal 162-game season. ESPN will broadcast Thursday's game nationally, with Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler doing the local Nationals radio broadcast on WJFK 106.7.
ace is expected to take the mound Thursday to face the and their probable starter, , who signed a 10-year, $324 million deal with New York in free agency last winter.
Fans will not be able to attend games at Nationals Park or other Major League Baseball stadiums. "Since the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic is still unknown, playing games in an empty ballpark is currently the best course of action to ensure the continued health and safety of our players, staff, employees, fans and community," the Nationals explained on their website. "As such, tickets for 2020 games at Nationals Park are not on sale, at least at this time."
After playing the Yankees on Thursday, the teams will take their traditional day off after opening day and then play two more games at Nationals Park on Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday game will start at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox. Sunday's game against the Yankees will be the first regular season game shown on MASN, the Nationals' local television network.
The Nationals will then play the Toronto Blue Jays at home for a two-game series on Monday and Tuesday, both of which will be shown on MASN.
The Nationals are then scheduled to play the Blue Jays in Toronto on July 29-30. But the Canadian government rejected the Blue Jays’ plan to play in Toronto, citing cross-border travel and potential exposure to the coronavirus when teams travel to Canada. Where the teams will play July 29-30 has yet to be determined.
The Nationals said Monday that Fauci had accepted the team's invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day.
"Dr. Fauci has been a true champion for our country during the Covid-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career, so it is only fitting that we honor him as we kick off the 2020 season and defend our World Series Championship title," the Nationals said.
In late April, after MLB was shut down due to the coronavirus, longtime Nationals player Ryan Zimmerman interviewed Fauci about the future of baseball in the age of the coronavirus and why he is a Nats fan.
Fauci told Zimmerman, who is sitting out the 2020 season due to safety concerns about the coronavirus, that he grew up a Yankees fan, even though he was born and raised in Brooklyn. He said it is not widely known today that about half of Brooklyn rooted for the Dodgers before they moved to Los Angeles while the other half of Brooklyn rooted for the Yankees.
After living in the Washington, D.C., area for the past 50 years, Fauci said he is now a Nationals fan. "I love everybody on the Nats," he told Zimmerman.
How will the coronavirus pandemic affect the game? MLB has made some rule changes in response to the coronavirus. In the 10th inning and beyond, each half inning will begin with a runner placed on second base with the goal of trying to bring about a quicker resolution to the game.
For the Nationals, as a National League team, the biggest change will be that the designated hitter rule will apply to both National and American League teams, removing pitchers from hitting. The rule change may give American League teams an advantage because they had all off-season to prepare for the designated hitter. National League teams did not prepare for the designated hitter rule during the off-season when offensively talented players were available on the trade and free agent market.
As had already been planned for the 2020 season, relief pitchers will have to face at least three batters or pitch to the completion of the inning in which they enter. This rule change will likely place less of an emphasis on left-handed relief specialists who often come into the game to face one left-handed hitter and then are taken out.
Pitchers will also carry their own personal rosin bags instead of sharing them with other pitchers.
One of the new rules that could be the hardest on the players is the no-spitting rule. Spitting of any kind is prohibited, “including, but not limited to, saliva, sunflower seeds, peanut shells or tobacco.”