The team faced the New York Yankees to begin the regular season, which has been shortened from 162 games to just 60 – the season typically begins in April and ends in October – as teams attempt to mitigate spreading the virus while navigating new rules for an unprecedented season that league and government officials have insisted must go on.
Hours before the opening pitch, Nationals outfielder Juan Soto had tested positive for Covid-19.
Every player on both teams took a knee before joining the field. They did not kneel during the National Anthem.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and a key figure in the fight against the coronavirus, tossed out out the ceremonial opening pitch to mark the beginning of an abbreviated Major League Baseball season on Thursday, as America’s pastime returns amid a pandemic with empty ballparks, canned crowd audio and “virtual” spectators for televised audiences.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases appeared on the mound for defending World Series champions the Washington Nationals, though his pitch hit the grass and rolled short of the home plate.
Donald Trump is the first sitting president since Jimmy Carter to have never thrown a ceremonial pitch to open a season.
Eighteen presidents over the last 100 years have thrown an opening pitch at some point in the season or at a championship game – except for Trump.
During his coronavirus press briefing on Thursday, the president said he was asked to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on 15 August.
“It’s really good that baseball’s opening,” the president said. “It looks like sports are opening. It’s a tremendous thing psychologically for this country.”
The president didn’t speak with his chief disease expert for several weeks despite the surge in new coronavirus cases and hospitalisations. A number of White House staff had sought to undermine Dr Fauci while the administration pushed for schools to reopen in the fall, despite warnings from health officials and medical experts.
Dr Fauci has not appeared at White House coronavirus press briefings since the president resumed them this week. Inside the briefing room on Thursday was former Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera.
Confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US surpassed 4 million on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that actual infection rates are likely several times higher. More than 143,000 people have died.
Dr Fauci told the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman on Wednesday that he was “quite nervous” about the pitch.
Zimmerman, who is sitting out for the season over Covid-19 concerns, told him not to worry.
“If you bounce it, there’s nobody there to boo you,” he said. “You’ll be good to go.”