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Major League Baseball may resume spring training in mid-June. Courtesy photo
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Sports Talk: With chance for home run, baseball can’t afford to whiff

It’s gone from “Play Ball?” to “Play Ball!” and there’s no way that baseball strikes out on this, right?

We hope so.

With the nation slowly awakening from its COVID-19 slumber, the cry to grab lumber and produce that sweet sound of ball meeting bat has grown.

Baseball is in a prime position to solidify its claim of being the national pastime. The plan calls for “spring” training to begin in mid-June with games proceeding the first week of July.

The sight of baseball being presented on July 4 would produce sky-high ratings and give a boost to a battered nation.

We know — the NFL draws bigger TV numbers and is considered more popular. The NBA? The younger fans in particular flock to this sport and even us guys with gray hair dig the dribble and dunk.

NHL can return to skating and the MLS can get back to trying to kick the ball into the back of the net.

But baseball stands alone in its connection with Americans, which made the first Memorial Day minus the sport since 1880 stunning.

For various reasons, following baseball is a way of life in our great land as it presents a daily diversion from the stuff that really counts.

Too bad baseball owners and baseball players are the Hatfield and McCoys of professional sports. While their brethren seem eager to find a common cause to bring back live sports to aid the nation’s healing process, baseball is batting down proposals like the Padres’ Manny Machado turning on an inside fastball.

It’s time for one of the parties, or better put, both, to turn the other cheek. Whatever is keeping baseball from unpacking its equipment needs to be brushed away like dirt from pants following a slide.

Sounds easy and simple, although those in the know realize it never is with these two combatants.

So before heaving confetti to celebrate baseball’s reemergence, be prepared that baseball might fall victim to greed, and if so, games at Petco Park might have to wait a year.

The skinny is that the players thought they had an agreement with the owners, based on negotiations in March. The labor would be paid a pro-rated salary depending on the numbers of games played in an abbreviated season.

But there was a caveat in that proposal that said compensation would be revisited if the games returned minus fans. Owners contend that they would lose more money having the games in empty stadiums than if they didn’t play them at all.

That’s why the bosses asked the workers to instead split the revenues from those games, which won’t having spectators, at least initially, because of the possibility of spreading COVID-19.

That risk is real and we’re not here to fault those in uniform about their reticence. Especially those with underlying health conditions like Dodgers Manager and Cardiff resident Dave Roberts, 47, a Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer survivor.

While people focus on players participating in ghost town stadiums, there still needs to be about 100 people present for a game. That also includes the coaching and medical staffs and any accompanying media to broadcast the contest.

With about 80% of the more than 100,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 being at least 65 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that gives pause to many associated with the game.

Angels skipper Joe Maddon, 66, is among six managers over 60. The Astros’ Dusty Baker, the league’s oldest manager, will be 71 next month.

The dangers don’t end there, although the other caveat isn’t as deadly.

The stunningly selfish optics baseball would display if billionaire owners are seen scuffling with millionaire players — as nearly 40 million Americans are without jobs and the nation’s death toll continues to rise — would be disastrous for the game.

If players are reluctant to play, we get it and they deserve the choice to not expose themselves and their families.

But it the industry can agree on the 67-page, health-and-safety booklet that supplies a plan to get the games started again, and they are stalled because of money issues, baseball will get the black eye that it richly deserves.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports