As MLB 60-game season draws near, careful optimism prevails

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Baltimore Orioles director of baseball administration Kevin Buck, left, and field coordinator Tim Cossins wear masks to protect against COVID-19 as they talk during an intrasquad game at baseball training camp Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

With the start of Major League Baseball's shortened season a week away, games in empty stadiums and strange extra-inning rules are on the verge of becoming reality.

Now that players have gotten used to COVID-19 tests, social distancing and wearing masks in the clubhouse, it's just about time to see if 30 teams can handle a 60-game schedule amid a pandemic.

“Obviously, it’s going to feel a little different the way things are going with no fans and what-not," Brewers infielder Eric Sogard said, “but we’re all excited to get going and get back out there.”

The season begins next Thursday night with the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals hosting the New York Yankees, and the Los Angeles Dodgers welcoming the rival San Francisco Giants. The rest of the league joins the fray Friday, the common thread being that all games will be played without fans in the stands, each team will have a designated hitter and that a runner will be placed on second base during extra innings.

When summer camp began earlier this month following an extended layoff due to the coronavirus outbreak, there was plenty of doubt whether the quest to salvage the season would ever get this far.

Several stars chose not to participate from the start, and rarely a day goes by without a positive COVID-19 test in one camp or another. But here we are, mere days from launching a season that's unique in almost every way.

“I've been keeping my fingers crossed every day. So far, we're doing fairly well," said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, whose team opens in Boston next Friday night. “We still have a ways to go before the 24th, and I'm nervous as anybody that we're going to be healthy."

But Hyde remains hopeful the season will start on time and go the distance.