No two seasons are exactly alike.
The players, the managers, the teams, the storylines—they all change from year to year, keeping each new season fresh and exciting while the game of baseball remains comforting and familiar.
Even in that context, the 2020 season is unlike any other in baseball history.
The season began in July. The schedule is 60 games long. No fans are allowed in ballparks, at least to start. Extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. The DH will be used in the National League.
And that’s just Major League Baseball. The minor league season was canceled entirely. So, too, were the high school and college seasons and the Cape Cod League. Across the country, new leagues with names like the Constellation League, Lemonade League and Wild Wild West League have sprung up to give players a place to play.
The reason for it all is the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, first arrived in the U.S in late winter. It has infected more than 3 million people nationwide and killed more than 135,000 in less than half a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its spread led to the closures of businesses, schools and, of course, professional sports.
The NBA and NHL shut down, as did MLB. The start of the college football season remained in limbo. Through mid-July, both the number of cases and the rates of positive tests were increasing across the nation, though the mortality rate had thankfully declined.
It is in this uncertain context that baseball is returning. To get even here required a gargantuan, and often tumultuous, effort. And we are seeing this week, as the Marlins sit idle amid a virus outbreak within its clubhouse and the Blue Jays ready to host the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, the road to finishing a season is just as fraught.
Below are several images we felt best encapsulated baseball's attempt to return in 2020. Special thanks to Tom DiPace, Bill Mitchell, Brian Westerholt and Mike Janes for their contributions.
Baseball's Road To Returning, In Pictures Launch Gallery
The Rays’ Yandy Diaz applies hand sanitizer at summer camp on July 14 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
A sign at Red Sox summer camp encourages social distance to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The Red Sox held workouts for their pitchers and taxi squad at Boston College. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox via Getty Images)
Carlos Torres, in his fourth year as a full-time major league umpire, works in front of the Braves’ Ozzie Albies during the first intrasquad game of summer workouts at Atlanta’s Truist Park. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Yankees players stretch during summer workouts at Yankee Stadium. The reset allowed injured Yankees stars Aaron Judge and James Paxton to recover. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
A melange of masked scouts track radar gun readings at an Arizona College Wood Bat League game on July 2 in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
“Masks required for entry” reads a sign at Charlotte’s Truist Field for a Southern Collegiate Baseball League game. (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)
A sign posted at Charlotte’s Truist Field implores fans to “Know your Ws!” In the absence of minor league games, the Knights’ home park hosted Southern Collegiate Baseball League games this summer. (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a public face of the coronavirus pandemic, wears a face mask bearing the Nationals’ club markings. Washington chose Fauci to throw out the first pitch at their home opener against the Yankees on July 23. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
A bottle of disinfectant sits on a table for use in the Arizona Collegiate Wood Bat League at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
Marlins CEO Derek Jeter observes a Miami workout from the Marlins Park stands. Jeter enters his third year in that role with the organization. The Miami farm system appeared ready to deliver a number of premium prospects to the big leagues this season, but the Marlins' immediate future remains in limbo as the team deals with an outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases within its clubhouse. (Photo by Tom DiPace)
The Indians’ Mike Freeman celebrates a home run with Franmil Reyes and Tyler Naquin at an intrasquad at Cleveland’s Progressive Field on July 13. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
Braves manager Brian Snitker observes a July 13 intrasquad game while masked and from behind a screen at Atlanta’s Truist Park. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
A baseball rests on the outfield grass at a Red Sox summer camp workout held at Boston College. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox via Getty Images)
Masked umpire Joey Basinger arrives at a July 1 game in the Arizona Collegiate Wood Bat League at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
Dusty Baker, at 71 the oldest big league manager, enters his first season as Astros manager following the dismissal of A.J. Hinch. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, last year’s American League batting champion, sports a mask as he waits to take batting practice at a July 6 workout at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
A baseball adorned with a surgical mask sits atop a dugout at Detroit's Comerica Park as summer camps opened. Baseball in 2020 features many of the same sights and sounds -- the green grass and the crack of the bat -- but will be unfamiliar in other ways because of the coronavirus. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)
Fans at an NC 3 league game, which replaced American Legion ball in North Carolina this summer. Only 25 fans were allowed inside the park. These fans, who were not one of the first 25, watched from under tents outside the venue. (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)
Macon Bacon players. (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam)
A bewildered fan gets his temperature taken by the Savannah Bananas mascot. (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam)