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Washington Nationals 2020 MLB Opening Day: The true meaning of Christmas in July

Baseball is back tonight (weather permitting). It’s time for Christmas in July. Then Strasmas on Saturday...

World Series - Houston Astros v Washington Nationals - Game Three Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

For many years I’ve heard the expression Christmas in July referring to an unexpected surprise or a wish that’s not supposed to come true.

But for the first time in my life, I think I might understand what it really means.

It’s the middle of the hottest, stickiest month of a year many of us would like to be over already, and all of a sudden, we have, baseball! Well, uh… something like baseball.

The teams are the same, but some players aren’t participating. So, fans of Ian Desmond, Buster Posey, and Ryan Zimmerman won’t be getting any presents.

Maybe it’s those players who are getting Christmas in July because they aren’t exposing themselves and their families to an increased risk of COVID-19.

They’ll be using the same stadiums – mostly. But what about the poor Toronto Blue Jays?

They have nowhere for no one to go to watch them play. It seems the only thing worse than playing in an empty ballpark is not having an empty ballpark to play in. Maybe they can play all their games on the road. They can be akin to the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ foils for many years. Or maybe permanent “heels,” like in pro wrestling. That was an idea I had for the NFL’s Raiders during a time when it looked like they couldn’t find a home.

At least those who pine for the crack of the bat and the pop of the catcher’s mitt will have their dreams come true, with televised games in empty parks. What will it be like watching cardboard cutouts and hearing canned cheers in the background? Maybe instead of cheers they can play the sounds of dice and shuffling cards, and we can pretend we’re playing Strat-O-Matic or Statis Pro tabletop games. “That’s a six to Scherzer, and an eight – Strikeout!” I wonder if the field mics will catch Max’s swear words he uses to psych himself up?

What will happen when Bryce Harper strolls to the plate at Nats Park? Judging from the preseason game, plenty of nothing, except his walk-up music. But it will be tough watching a high-leverage at-bat without the crowd noise to ratchet up the tension. Will any pitcher feel the same heat as Josh Hader faced last October against Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto? I don’t think so, and that could mean that ninth-inning pitchers might have a new advantage in what were once hostile ballparks.

One thing that should almost certainly happen: The whole “pace of play” conversation will just disappear. Without fans in the stands to flex or mug for, hitters ought to be able to get in the box and stay there. Will pitchers still need to step off to break the tension? Who would the batters be flexing and preening for? The fans at home? And how will we feel the first time an extra-inning baserunner scores the winning run for the Nats?

Maybe the best thing about the 2020 season is that it will be so much shorter than a regular baseball season, with games played at a much brisker pace. So we can get this over with and closer to a regular baseball season. Until we know that baseball made it through the 2020 season without anyone getting sick or dying, then that will be the best part about baseball in 2020. That’s the true meaning of Christmas in July.