Cincinnati Reds to open season late

Before the modern-day coronavirus plague infected the United States, the Cincinnati Reds were scheduled to open the Major League Baseball season March 26.

That would have been the earliest home opener in Reds history or since 1876 when the National League was founded.

Now, with baseball on hold and much of the country shut down, it is unknown just when it will be safe enough for large gatherings of fans to congregate again. Sports have had their audiences benched.

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The Reds were nearly halfway through spring training when the team dispersed, players told to go home and wait until it was safe to go back to the diamond.

Baseball has coped with a hiatus occasionally over the years, sometimes of its own making, sometimes not.

In 1981, there was a players’ strike between June 12 and July 31. That was the year of the so-called split season where first-half and second-half standings were tracked. In 1994, a players’ strike resulted in the cancellation of the World Series.

These interruptions were unthinkable. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, halted the game, though only for a short time. The pandemic is a completely different type of interruption. What is most likely is the Reds will transition from having their earliest-ever season start to their latest.

The first Opening Day in Cincinnati history dates to 1876. On April 25, the Reds defeated the St. Louis Brown Stockings 2-1.

“Cherokee” Fisher, born William Charles, in Philadelphia, who died at 67 in 1912 in New York, was the winner that day. Fisher is not as well-remembered in Reds lore as Pete Rose, Joe Morgan or Tony Perez. For good reason. That single season on the Reds payroll, Fisher finished 4-20.

The right-handed thrower had an erratic career. He was known for throwing a fastball and for living fast, drinking too much wherever he played.

Between the establishment of the Red Stockings in 1869 and the creation of the National League, there were other pro teams only the most avid of historians recall. Fisher pitched for the Hartford Dark Blues, the Rockford Forest Citys and the Baltimore Canaries. His lifetime record was 56-84, although bolstered by a Deadball Era 2.61 earned run average.

For teams not located in the Sun Belt, I think March 26 is too early on the calendar to schedule games that count. It’s not as if it doesn’t in Boston, New York, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago and Cincinnati in March.

MLB has engaged in schedule creep recently. Teams made their annual debuts in early April. Plenty of inclement weather caused postponements. However, in 2018 (March 30) and 2019 (March 28), Reds season openers were earlier.

That kind of scheduling is risky business. No team does Opening Day like the Reds. The tradition runs deep. If kids can score tickets, it is pretty much an automatic excused absence from school. Cincinnati throws a parade, an homage to the hold the club has on the city. For many years, the Reds had the first day of the season to themselves. No more.

At least the Reds were scheduled to open at home at the Great American Ballpark in 2020. Major League Baseball should always give the Reds a home game on the first day of the season.

As a bow to the possibility of rain or snow postponement, the second day of the Reds’ schedule is usually an off day. That allows for a makeup date, if necessary. This was true this season with March 27 as a possible fill-in date.

Right now, nobody knows when baseball will get the green light. Four times in team history, the Reds opened at home as late as a May day on the calendar.

On May 14, 1877, Cincinnati lost to St. Louis 24-6. In 1878, 1879 and 1880, the Reds hosted a home opener May 1. There seems to be very little chance given the current national situation that baseball will be going at full blast earlier than May 14. It’s not an impossibility, to be sure, but as thousands of COVID-19 infections are revealed and more Americans die from the disease, it’s unlikely.