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After a labor dispute threatened MLB's season, Opening Day is here

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CENTERFIELD")

JOHN FOGERTY: (Singing) Put me in, coach. I'm ready to play.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Makes me want to sing. It's opening day for Major League Baseball. A 99-day standoff between owners and players ended with less than a month before the traditional start to play. So here we are. Chelsea Janes is the national baseball reporter for The Washington Post and is on the line. Good morning.

CHELSEA JANES: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Wow. Did you think you wouldn't have a season to cover at one point?

JANES: I think that was a very real doubt at various points during that labor standoff. But, you know, they saved it just in time to get the full season in. And I think everyone's very happy about that.

INSKEEP: Well, that's what I was wondering, if there was lingering bitterness from this 99-day standoff or if people feel that the terms are what they want them to be.

JANES: You know, I don't think the terms are what they want them to be. But I think there is very little bitterness. I think there is a sense that this was going to be a showdown. Everyone knew this was coming for years, that this would be a big labor standoff in 2021. And they got through it. And they're going to play 162 games. And I haven't really heard much about it at all in the last few weeks, as spring training camps have opened and everyone has just been grateful to sort of turn their focus to baseball.

INSKEEP: I want to note some of the baseball here. There's going to be a different rule for many games. Major League Baseball has a number of new rules. And the simplest one, perhaps, is that the National League is going to become like the American League and allow designated hitters, meaning somebody's standing in for the pitcher and they're not on the field, on defense. What's the effect there?

JANES: It will change the game dramatically in the National League, where managers have long said they loved the style of play because you had a pitcher, like you said. And you had to figure out when to pull them, when to hit for them, you know, when to use them to bunt. You had to sort of plan your whole game plan around it. And opposing pitchers had the pitcher to look forward to. They are traditionally not good hitters. So you had eight really good hitters. And the opposing pitcher could say, all right, I'll take a breath on the ninth. And that's no longer true. You'll have a professional, you know, established hitter in that spot. It'll be harder for pitchers to get through lineups. Managers will have fewer decisions to make, potentially fewer pitching changes to make as a result. And I think everyone hopes that it'll both speed up the game and create some more offense and some more action out there.

INSKEEP: Can I pause for a moment and be a little cranky? I kind of enjoyed the strategy, the strategery, of going back and forth and deciding whether to pull the pitcher and that sort of thing.

JANES: I don't think you're alone in that. I think there are a lot of people who will miss it. But the people who will not are the pitchers and those who pay them and worry that through every little at bat that they were going to get injured doing something they weren't really meant to do anyway. So you know, I think that's a fair critique. And there are probably a lot of people who agree. But for the game at large, I think everyone feels a little bit safer having those guys off, you know, out of batting and limited to the mound.

INSKEEP: What are a couple of teams you are especially following this year, you're particularly interested in?

JANES: I think the Los Angeles Dodgers are fascinating. They have, potentially, now that they've added former Braves star Freddie Freeman, one of the most prolific offensive lineups in history. But as we know, baseball doesn't really adhere to the expectations. So we'll see what they're able to do. You know, I think the New York Mets, with former Nat Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, have two of the best starters of the era if they can keep them healthy. And so they'll be fascinating to watch, too. They're all spending a lot of money. And everyone's kind of trying to keep up.

INSKEEP: I like the line about baseball not adhering to expectations. We have no idea if that murderer's row lineup is going to be any good at all.

JANES: Right. And I think that's what makes it so much fun. And I think that's why everyone's so glad to kind of see these games get started.

INSKEEP: Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

JANES: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CENTERFIELD")

FOGERTY: (Singing) Centerfield. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.