Opening Day of the 2021 Major League Baseball season is underway making its pitch for more optimism than the league faced in 2020. Still, baseball fans got a quick reminder that COVID-19 will still have an impact on this year's schedule. All teams were expected to play Thursday, but the New York Mets and Washington Nationals game was postponed out of an "abundance of caution" after one of the Nationals players tested positive for the coronavirus.  

MLB Chief Operations and Strategy Officer Chris Marinak said he anticipates that things will get easier as the season goes on. 

"I think out of an abundance of caution we didn't want to rush into things and risk any additional spread, but hopefully over the course of the season, we'll see that it's a little bit easier to manage this year, particularly once the players get vaccinated," Marinak told Cheddar.  

In addition, the league has added a number of protocols since the start of the pandemic, including enhanced testing and digital devices worn by players to help with contact tracing.  

Marinak said that, ideally, players will work with hospitals and vaccination sites in their home markets to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. 

Once at least 85 percent of players are vaccinated, they will no longer have to wear masks in the dugout and bullpen; clubhouse amenities such as pool tables and steam rooms will be restored; players will be allowed to drink and eat on flights, and gather in indoor spaces such as hotels as long as no non-vaccinated people are present.  

These benefits are designed to motivate players to get vaccinated, Marinak said. 

"Those types of things I think are important for players," he said. "The season's a real big grind. Anything we can do to give them some of the relaxing measures that we've had in place in prior seasons I think is something that they really value and appreciate." 

Even with the possibility of more game cancellations, Marinak said the league has not set a threshold in advance of the season for how many games need to take place for teams to qualify for postseason play. 

"I think we're hopeful that given the amount of time we have to finish the season — it ends in October — that we'll be able to find a way to play most, if not all, the games," he said.   

As for the fans, mask-wearing is still mandated across the league, but stadium capacity is being decided by the individual clubs. 

"We've really told the clubs to work with their local health officials and figure out what's appropriate for each market," Marinak said.

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