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Washington Nationals 2021: When the games begin again...

Baseball is set to return, allegedly in its full season capacity. But what about the fans?

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Pitchers and catchers are set to report in just under a month, while spring training games begin for the Washington Nationals on February 27 against the Houston Astros. Under normal conditions, we begin looking at these dates with excitement, not nervous apprehension. When baseball suspended its season last March, it was unclear where baseball was going to go next. Eventually, it was clear the bubble method wasn’t going to be feasible in the same way that it was for the NBA and NHL during their respective playoffs. When baseball announced its return, I was skeptical that the season was going to progress to its conclusion. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Now, nearly a year removed from when sports leagues across the country began shuttering, many are optimistic about the prospect of sports returning in earnest, particularly because we’ve been seeing leagues function without a ton of hindrance, even though there have been hiccups. It’s also not been the normal circumstances we’ve come to understand surrounding sporting events. In many places, fans are kept to a minimum, while other places still aren’t allowing outsiders at all. But relief is apparently on the way, what with the recent rolling out of the vaccine. While it’s unlikely we’ll see normalcy across sports this year, we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it seems.

Once games begin again in DC, it will likely be without all the fanfare. With the Nationals set to open up April 1 against the new-look New York Mets, the country will hopefully be on the heels of a projected spike in COVID cases. Even with that type of optimism, it’s hard to imagine that the District leaders will be allowing many fans, if any, into games. The Washington Football Team played its home games sans fans, even once the team reached the playoffs. Other states have grown more relaxed with these restrictions. The Buffalo Bills allowed fans in for their home playoff games.

Like football, baseball does have the benefit of being outside. Situating fans in such a way that keeps them relatively safe seems like a doable proposition, though I suspect reluctance to do so will reign, at least for the first couple months. But we do have a greater understanding of the virus than we did last year, and help is on the way, so it may be the case that Nationals Park reaches 25 percent capacity (or so) regularly with the proper logistical planning by stadium officials.

Some of my speculations last year proved to be incorrect, so I’m hoping this will, too. An entirely empty stadium is an unsettling thing to watch. The crowd noise, though better than expected, doesn’t really get the job done.

Because many baseball teams so infrequently have packed houses, allowing for a limited capacity could largely have the effect of normalizing what we’re seeing.

When the games begin again, it won’t be all doom and gloom everywhere, as it was in some ways last year. Many parks will allow for attendance, but it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Nats’ fans will be allowed back into the park, at least initially. Washington’s season opens with six consecutive home games, the first three coming against the Mets, the second three coming against the Atlanta Braves, and I hope that some fans will be able to witness the action in-person. By the way, there seems no better way to begin the season than by playing the Mets and Braves. It serves as a microcosm for the challenges the Nationals will face this season.

Why not set out against the two front-runners of the division? I’m just hoping we see a full season of baseball.