EDITORIAL: The welcome return of Cardinals baseball

St. Louis Cardinals' Paul Goldschmidt bats during an intrasquad practice baseball game at Busch Stadium Thursday, July 9, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

It's the four words so many of us have been waiting to hear: Cardinals. Baseball. Is. Back.

This will be a different kind of Opening Day for baseball, with precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Still, the Redbirds return to action today as they host the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 1 of a 60-game regular season.

Here are a few notes about the upcoming season:

* Major League Baseball is doing extensive testing on players and staff. A report last week from MLB and the Players Association states that of the 10,548 samples tested, only six were new positives. That's great news and we hope the trend continues as teams begin to travel for the season.

* Speaking of travel, the schedule is much different this year. Not only will there be fewer games, but teams will only play in their division: east, central or west. The Cardinals, for example, will play 40 games against National League Central teams plus 20 against American League Central opponents.

* There are several precautions MLB is taking to prevent the spread of the virus. Staff and those players not playing in the game are to wear masks. Some are even wearing masks while they play, though it's not mandatory. There is more social distancing. Spitting is not allowed, and arguing is strictly forbidden to avoid direct face-to-face contact.

* On the baseball side, all 30 teams will use the designated hitter. So for the National League purists who enjoy seeing pitchers hit and the resulting strategy, that's going to be a big change. There will also be some changes to extra innings. During the regular season, any inning beyond the ninth will begin with a runner on second base. This is meant to prevent marathon contests that go deep into extra innings. And while Minor League Baseball is not being played this year, all 30 Major League teams have a taxi squad from which to pull players from during the season. For St. Louis, the taxi squad will be located in Springfield, Missouri.

And there are other changes, ranging from COVID-19 precautions to changes in which the game is played due to a shortened season. But after 266 days without professional baseball -- and even longer since the Cardinals took the field -- it's so nice to have baseball back.

A quote attributed to Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller captures a parallel between baseball and life: "Everyday is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday's success or put its failures behind and start over again. That's the way life is, with a new game every day, and that's the way baseball is."

With all the uncertainty and disruption brought on by COVID-19, this is a good reminder that each day we have an opportunity for a fresh start. A new opportunity to give our best effort at home, work and in the community. And on a more basic level, having professional sports return provides a welcome diversion from the stresses of daily life.

Happy Opening Day. It's time to play ball.