Baseball to resume in empty stadiums

"Take me out to the ball game" in the midst of a pandemic will mean a trip to the living room and a spot on the sofa to watch Major League Baseball when the COVID-19 interrupted season finally gets underway on Friday.

Regarded as the U.S. national pastime, ball parks that would be filled with fans and buzzing with excitement on opening day will stand empty as the country struggles to contain the virus that has claimed more than 140,000 American lives.

MLB makes its return mid-summer having been forced to shutdown mid-March during Spring training, with the New York Yankees visiting the World Series champion Washington Nationals and the Dodgers hosting the San Francisco Giants.

What in a normal season would mark the start of a 162 game marathon for MLB's 30 clubs will instead be a 60 game sprint with a few new twists.

In an effort to speed up play and prevent overtaxing pitchers, extra-inning play will begin with a runner on second base.

Pitchers will also no longer bat this season with the designated hitter rule used by the American League applied to the National League as well.

While the NBA, NHL and MLS will restart their seasons in hub cities under quarantine bubbles, Major League Baseball teams will fly across the country and play in their own stadiums - except the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays found themselves looking for a U.S. home base last week after the Canadian government rejected a request for an exemption to allow them and opponents to cross the Canada/U.S. border -- that remains closed to non-essential travel -- without observing the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.

Until the pandemic the Houston Astros were placed to be the biggest storyline of the 2020 season after a sign stealing scandal.

The Astros can still expect payback from opposing teams but they will not have to deal with the relentless heckling at the stadiums with no fans in the stands.