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It’s going to be strange, but tonight will still feel like Opening Day for the Washington Nationals...

In what is certain to be a unique Opening Day later tonight, the Nationals are still treating it just like any other ordinary season-opener...

Baltimore Orioles v Washington Nationals Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

When the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals square off against the New York Yankees tonight on ESPN, it’s going to kick off a baseball season like no other.

Trying to play baseball during the coronavirus pandemic will be very different. There are no fans in the ballpark, rigorous health and safety protocols, and obviously, a deadly virus out there that the players, coaches, and other staff at the ballpark are risking being exposed to.

With that said, almost everyone in baseball is still looking forward to Opening Day despite the circumstances.

For some, it’s some semblance of a return to normalcy. For others, it’s a welcome distraction from the hard times the country and the world are going through.

For the Nationals, it’s also the welcome end to a long journey that began right after Daniel Hudson flung his glove toward the visitor’s dugout at Minute Maid Park.

“Not only for us a game, but the first game nationally televised tomorrow,” manager Dave Martinez said of his emotions about the game. “So that’s exciting for all of us. Long time coming.

“We prepared ourselves early in March, had to get shut down, we came back, and here we are ready to go again for a memorable Opening Day.”

Memorable is definitely a good word for it. Nobody is going to forget this one.

Even if we weren’t in a global pandemic, this game would still be pretty memorable.

After all, it’s Max Scherzer v Gerrit Cole, two of the best in pitchers in the world, and a rematch of Game 1 of the 2019 World Series.

The Nats’ right-hander will be making his fifth Opening Day start for the team in six years, and while this one will be different, his manager expects more of the same from his ace.

“Max is Max,” Martinez said after Scherzer’s exhibition start against the Philadelphia Phillies. “He’s going to come out Opening Day and be fired up and compete.”

With his locked-in, snarling, foaming-at-the-mouth demeanor on the mound, Scherzer isn’t exactly the type of player that needs any extra motivation for a major league start. But even he knows there’s a little extra kick on Opening Day that signals the start of baseball again.

“The adrenaline hits,” Scherzer explained about Opening Day. “It doesn’t matter how many times, how many years you’ve been in this, when you’re playing on Opening Day that’s always special, doesn’t matter if it’s your first, or your last, it’s the start of baseball, and it’s been too long without baseball, it’s pretty cool that we’re the first ones to go.”

Perhaps for this Opening Day though, it might even have a little extra something for Scherzer that other Opening Days just don’t quite have after the extended offseason break.

As a member of the MLB Players Association’s subcommittee, Scherzer, more than most of his peers, has put in a lot of work into getting this shortened season on track.

“It’s going to be great, and just the amount of work that everybody has had to go through to get to this point,” Scherzer said.

“There’s been a lot of hours, I had to pour into union calls, and guys across the league and keeping our guys informed across that whole time period. So there’s just been a tremendous amount of work that everybody’s had to do to get the season up and going.”

“We’re very fortunate to be playing baseball in 2020. We had to jump through a lot of hoops, but that’s just something that we’re all comfortable doing, and we’ll do anything to be able to play baseball.”

Following Ryan Zimmerman’s decision to opt-out of the 2020 season, Stephen Strasburg will now be the longest-tenured National on the team this year.

The World Series MVP has seen a lot of Opening Days and started more than his fair share.

Heading into this year’s version though, he’s not really sure what the day is going to be like.

“I really have no idea,” the right-hander said about what he expects.

“It’s not what we envisioned going into this season, but it’s the reality that we’re in, and we can either dwell on the negatives or focus on the positives, and I think there are a lot of positives to look back.

“Baseball is coming and I’m just happy to be here with the guys, and trying my very best to do all the social distancing, but at the same time enjoy being a part of a team.”

The team’s closer, Sean Doolittle, also spoke to reporters yesterday about what his emotions are heading into this year’s unusual Opening Day.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Doolittle told reporters. “It’s going to be a really unique Opening Day, that’s for sure.

“But I think just for us, the emotions of putting that uniform on again and taking that field here in Nats Park. It’s going to be different because there’s no fans, and the fans, the way that they supported us down the stretch and in the playoffs, showing up at the parade, we definitely feel a connection with the fans, so we’re really going to miss them. We’ll be thinking about them.

“We’ll be pumping in crowd noise to try to make up the difference, but I think Opening Day, and like I said, being able to — we’ve got that patch on our uniform sleeve that says World Champs, and going out there to start to defend our championship is something we’ve been looking forward to since the end of October. We’re really excited about it.”

Who knows how long this MLB season will last. Maybe it only lasts a few weeks before the virus curtails it prematurely.

Or maybe it makes all the way to the World Series and we see a new champion — no doubt with an invisible asterisk next to their name — crowned.

But right now, all we do know is the Major League Baseball returns tonight. It might not be the kind we’re all used to, but it will still be Opening Day and still be a memorable day regardless...