The start of the Major League Baseball season is an annual delight of mine. Having grown up an hour from St. Louis, I’ve been a lifelong Cardinals fan. 

As a kid I could imitate the hitting and pitching styles of my heroes: Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Ken Boyer, Julian Javier, Mike Shannon and others. I hit literally thousands of rocks from my driveway into a nearby cornfield, which did not make the owner very happy. I could hit from both sides of the plate because that’s what my heroes did. When I imitated Brock, I did so with a perfect left-handed swing to knock rocks into all areas of the cornfield.

When I was Gibby on the mound, I could imitate his right-handed delivery and his intimidating stare into the batter’s eyes.

I welcome each and every baseball season with the same hope of all baseball fans and their teams: could this be the year we take the World Series? I cherish the memories from 1964, 1967, 1982, 2006 and 2011, when my Redbirds beat the world and brought home the big trophy. I also remember the heartaches of 1968, 1985 and 1987 when we came up short in the World Series.

I love the start of the baseball season, from following spring training games, watching the young prospects and hoping the cagey veterans can give us one more solid year. I love following the box scores in the paper for the smallest of details: who drove in the runs, who went for extra bases, who had a good day on the mound, who went hitless and could be looking at a demotion to the farm club.

I love baseball, from watching my Cardinals on TV to catching a Class AA minor league game in Springdale. The smells, the sounds, the hopes, the dreams, I love it all.

Except 2020. Even with the prospect of the season getting under way this month, I just can’t get enthused about it.

I really can’t seem to grab much joy from this season. MLB announced last week that players would report on Wednesday for a second spring training in 2020. Teams reported back in February only to have the season shut down in March. Now teams are gearing up to start the season the end of this month, even as the Covid-19 Pandemic is spiking in states such as Texas, Arizona and Florida, where a lot of baseball takes place.

Under the plan for the 2020 season, 10 teams will make the playoffs after a shortened 60-game season. The season is expected to start around July 24, but who knows if that will happen. Numerous players and staff members tested positive for the virus last week. 

Policies in 2020 will include social distancing between players not in the game; no spitting or chewing tobacco or seeds; and baseballs that are used in-game and touched by multiple players will be removed from the game. Players will be tested for Covid-19 during the week and temperatures will be taken once a day. If a player tests positive, he will be quarantined and will need two negative tests to return to the field.

Several other changes will be implemented this season, including bringing the designated hitter to the National League. I’m old school in that regard: let the inept pitchers hit, I say!

MLB and the players’ union agreed to adopt the policy that extra-inning games will begin with a runner on second base in an effort to shorten the games. The change will only be used in 2020.

Spring training normally takes place in Arizona and Florida, but the second round will take place at each team’s home park. Once games begin, they may do so without fans in the seats.

In the early 1980s, I worked as a beer vendor at the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training park in Sun City, Ariz. That was when the Brewers played in the American League. It was great money for a couple of hours of work watching the game I love.

The pinnacle of that time came in 1982, when my beloved Cardinals beat the Brewers in the World Series.

I hope my enthusiasm for the game comes back once games begin this summer. I hope I get enthused when Yadier Molina throws out his first runner, when Jack Flaherty is dominant on the mound, when Adam Wainwright strikes out a hitter with “Uncle Charley,” his wonderful curveball, or when Paul Goldschmidt finds an upper deck for a homer.

I hope.