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Ryan Zimmerman: Excitement over KBO shows how much fans miss baseball

Ryan Zimmerman: Excitement over KBO shows how much fans miss baseball

Baseball is back, just not in the U.S.

The Korean Baseball Organization kicked off its 2020 season Tuesday, a little over a month after its originally scheduled Opening Day. Although there are no fans allowed at games while the coronavirus pandemic still commands global social-distancing guidelines, live professional baseball is being played for the first time since Major League Baseball suspended spring training March 12.

In Thursday’s installment of his diary series with the Associated Press, Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman reflected on his first impressions of the excitement surrounding the KBO season.

“It does sort of show, I guess, how starved we are for sports content,” Zimmerman wrote. “And I don’t mean that in a bad way -- this is no knock on the Korean league -- but just to have live sports, of any kind at all, is really a big deal right now. If things were normal, there’s zero chance you would have people watching Korean baseball on TV here; they’d be watching us play. But there it is on ESPN, with Karl Ravech and other people who’d normally be talking about the main big league games.”

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Meanwhile, MLB officials are reportedly preparing a return-to-play proposal that they hope to put in front of the union by next week. According to ESPN, the league is aiming to resume spring training June 10 before kicking off a shortened season July 1.

However, there are still plenty of issues to iron out before the first pitch is thrown—chief among them how to ensure the safety of everyone involved in putting on MLB games. For Zimmerman, the KBO offers a chance to see what kind of response would be made if a player tested positive.

“Hopefully it doesn’t happen, but what if one of the players there gets the virus? I would want to see how the league reacts and what they do for that player and for his team and the teams they played against,” Zimmerman wrote. “It is kind of nice to have someone go first.”

For now, he can sit back like the rest of baseball fans and see how things go over in Korea. There is still a long way to go before there are games being played in MLB ballparks once again.

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Has the coronavirus prevented Ryan Zimmerman from hitting 300 homers?

Has the coronavirus prevented Ryan Zimmerman from hitting 300 homers?

Since the first organized professional baseball game was held May 4, 1871, there have been 17,594 players to step to the plate at least once in their career. Of those 17,594, only 148 have hit at least 300 home runs and just 21 have done it all for one team.

Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman is 30 homers away from becoming the 22nd player to achieve the feat, but he may be running out of time. After the coronavirus outbreak halted spring training and forced the postponement of Opening Day, his chances of reaching the mark in 2020 waned.

That wouldn’t be too much of an issue for a younger player with a better injury history. However, Zimmerman is 35 years old and has played a full season only once over the past six years. In the April 30 installment of his diary series with the Associated Press, the veteran infielder emphasized that he’s taking things on a year-by-year basis.

“A lot of people were saying, ‘You could have gone somewhere else [last offseason] and gotten a two-year deal.’ Things like that,” Zimmerman wrote. “I obviously didn’t want to go anywhere else. And I also didn’t want a multi-year deal. I’m at the point now where it’s kind of nice to be able to see where things stand each year and go from there.”

Zimmerman added that if the season were to be called off, he would “definitely plan on playing” in 2021. Yet league officials have expressed optimism that some form of shortened season will be played this year, with reports indicating that teams could play around 100 games each before taking part in an expanded playoff bracket.

That means 2020 could very well be Zimmerman’s final year in the majors. Hitting 30 home runs would be a tall task for him in any season—expecting him to do it in 100 games would be quixotic. He’s only achieved the feat twice in his career, most recently doing so during his 2017 All-Star campaign.

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Even if he does play for two more years, Zimmerman would need to stay healthy and receive consistent playing time if he’s going to hit 300. Various injuries have limited him to 137 games (and 19 home runs) over the last two years, putting pressure on him to stay healthy enough to stay on the active roster.

That doesn’t even factor in the offseason signings of Eric Thames and Howie Kendrick, which paint a muddled picture at first base. Zimmerman and Thames are natural platoon partners, but there’s no guarantee manager Davey Martinez plans to use them that way.

Zimmerman doesn’t appear to be too focused on hitting that 300 mark. He’s already the franchise leader in home runs and pretty much every other counting statistic. True to his character, Zimmerman's reasons for playing revolve more around the health of his body and level of appreciation for the game.

“My body feels unbelievable right now,” Zimmerman told AP. “Not having to go through the grind of a season, but still working out. I kind of envision myself being that way when I’m done playing: Still being active and staying in shape but not necessarily doing what we do every single day to get ready for a game.

“Going the other way, though, being home and not being able to even go to the field -- you don’t realize how much you love it until it’s gone. In that sense, this time has made me realize how lucky I am to play the game.”

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Here's how baseball will return, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci

Here's how baseball will return, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci

The coronavirus pandemic has made Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert, one of the most recognizable people in the United States. He attends briefings with the president, is in demand among various news outlets and was portrayed by Brad Pitt in a recent Saturday Night Live episode.

Wednesday, he talked with Ryan Zimmerman about a wide range of topics. Fauci said Pitt needs to improve his Brooklyn accent, that he would pitch Max Scherzer in a Game 7 if he could choose from anyone, and his dad took him to see Joe DiMaggio when he was a child in Brooklyn.

But, what everyone associated with baseball wants to know from Fauci, is if and how the sport can safely return in 2020. He outlined multiple scenarios when asked by Zimmerman.

“I think there is a pathway there, Ryan, but it’s going to depend on my answer about the question a few minutes ago (about slowing the spread),” Fauci said. “As we start trying to get back to normality and pulling back on some of the strict mitigation, you know we have a three-phase way to get back to normal. First you get past the checkpoint, the gateway -- kind of like the minor leagues before you get into the big leagues. Then you go to Phase 1, then if you do well, you go to Phase 2, then Phase 3. If we do that successfully, and there’s no major outbreaks, I could foresee any of a number of scenarios.

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“One of the scenarios would be something that I know is not pleasing to the players like yourself, is to at least get the fans to see it on TV. Get the players all tested so they’re negative and they’re not going to infect each other. Let them go to a place -- a few places -- where you can play ball and play and watch it on TV. That’s one option.

“The next option is to do the same thing, but if things are really low, to restrict the number of people in the stadium. Say, when you get on line to get your ticket the way we do on Capitol Street, you stand there and you’re six feet away from the person in front of you instead of face-to-face when the crowd comes in. The next thing, [put fans in] every fifth seat or every fourth seat, that could be done.

“Then, the best of all, is if things really work out well, you could have a regular season. But I hope there’s some form of baseball this summer, even if it’s just TV. I feel that strongly, one, because I’m an avid baseball fan. But also, I mean it’s for the country’s mental health to have the great American pastime be seen. Two, it’s for players like yourself that don’t have a lot of years left. You don’t want to lose another year. It’s for the rookies who are coming up, who waited all their lives since high school to do this, who are getting a season taken away from them. And it’s for the people who are on a roll, like many of the players on the Nats, to keep going. So, there’s so many reasons to want to do that.”

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