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Rogers Hornsby, one of baseball’s greatest hitters and most ill-tempered curmudgeons, famously complained that “people ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Today, baseball fans everywhere are living in Rogers Hornsby’s world.

In New York, the Nationals were to begin defense of their World Series championship against the Mets, but that city is now the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis that has ground modern life to a halt. In Cincinnati, the 101st annual Opening Day parade was to put Reds fans in a party mood for the Reds’ game with the Cardinals, but that tradition, like so many in this country, has been shelved for now.

And in Oakland, Jose Berrios was to take the mound for one of the most confident and optimistic Twins teams in years, eager to follow up on its 101-win breakthrough. But Berrios has gone home, the bats that produced a record 307 home runs last year are in storage, and Opening Day will come and go without its most valuable commodity: Possibility.

“I always think, ‘This is going to be a good season,’ ” Berrios said during spring training, back when all 30 teams expected to start their 2020 seasons this week. “It’s exciting to start to find out. [Whether] I pitch or not, it’s a good day.”

The good times are delayed this year, however, deferred until the pandemic passes and everyone’s safety in public places such as ballparks can be assured. The actual 2020 opener is still months away, ironically transforming what was to be the Twins’ earliest Opening Day ever into their latest, and creating some geographic vertigo in players long since accustomed to a late March starting gate.

“I haven’t been in Colorado at this time of year in almost 11 years,” reliever Taylor Rogers said from his suburban Denver home. “I just don’t remember what the weather was like here.”

It’s going to be sunny and breezy at Oakland Coliseum on Thursday, around 60 degrees when fans should have been filing in, and ballplayers would have been lining up for introductions. It was supposed to be the Twins’ ninth season opener in Oakland, but their first since 1991 — a championship season that lives in Minnesota lore.

Instead, sheltered-in-place fans with a thirst for decorative bunting and springtime baseball will have to settle for reliving the 2019 opener on TV. Fox Sports North will replay Berrios’ (with a little help from Rogers) two-hit, 2-0 shutout of the Indians from last March, the first step in one of the most memorable Twins seasons in years, one that the Twins hoped to build upon this year with slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson added to their lineup.

“To me, Opening Day is even more special up here in this part of the world because starting a baseball season does signal the beginning of spring. ”
Dick Bremer, Twins broadcaster

Records … won’t fall

Would the Twins be able to top their 101 victories? Could they possibly bash another 307 home runs, most ever in a single season in major league history?

“We’ll never know,” righthander Jake Odorizzi said. “Like a lot of things about this season, we’ll never know because there are more important [considerations] right now.”

Still, it won’t pass unnoticed at Odorizzi’s Tampa home that the season should be getting underway. He’ll mark the occasion by pitching Wiffle balls to his 4-year-old son, Rhett, “and maybe I’ll introduce him first, like on Opening Day,” joked Odorizzi, who opened the Twins’ 2018 season with six shutout innings in an eventual 3-2 loss at Baltimore.

“Now that I’m a little bit older and been through a few of them, there’s an appreciation factor of getting to do this another year,” Odorizzi said. “The pageantry, the introductions, all the things that go with it, they make Opening Day iconic, and you really start to value them because you don’t know how many you have left. It’s one game, you’ve got 161 more, but that’s always a special one.”

Spring begins

To Dick Bremer, who has broadcast Twins games since 1983, the 2002 opener in Kansas City, after a winter of fearing the team was about to be contracted out of existence, sticks out as a particularly joyous memory.

“After what we went through during the winter, not even knowing whether there would even be a team, I’ll never forget that one,” Bremer said. “To beat Kansas City [8-6] on a beautiful spring day, to see the Twins on the field, that was really special. And it was made even more special when Jacque Jones hit the second pitch of the season into the [Kaufmann Stadium] fountains in left-center field.”

Nobody knows when life will return to normal, when stay-at-home orders will be unnecessary, when baseball will return. The loss of Opening Day traditions doesn’t begin to compare to the losses being inflicted by coronavirus. But that won’t make the day less … odd.

“To me, Opening Day is even more special up here in this part of the world because starting a baseball season does signal the beginning of spring. We’ve been through some long months and now it’s all ahead of us,” Bremer said. “To watch, as we apparently will now, the trees leaf out and the grass turn green without baseball is going to be peculiar. It really will hit home for us all on Thursday.”