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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Baseball is back, America. After a 60-game season in 2020, this year's complete 162-game schedule begins this afternoon in the Bronx.

Driving the news: MLB saw just 17 positive tests out of 72,751 conducted (0.02%) last Friday. But five Nationals are currently in quarantine due to a positive test — a reminder of how fragile any sense of stability will be.

The state of play:

  • New ball: MLB is debuting a new ball that's supposed to decrease flight distance and possibly limit home runs. But based on spring training data gathered by The Ringer, it still seems juiced.
  • CBA negotiations: The collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players' union expires on Dec. 1, and they'll need to agree to a new one to avoid a lockout. Negotiations should begin soon and will be a storyline all year.
  • Changes that remain: Some of the changes MLB enacted in 2020 remain in effect, including seven-inning double-headers and placing a runner on second base to start each extra half-inning.
  • New-look Minors: Dozens of minor league affiliates were eliminated or rearranged this offseason (see map). MLB will also test potential rules changes in the minors, including larger bases (Triple-A) and defensive shift restrictions (Double-A).
  • Dodgers repeat? MLB hasn't had a repeat champion since 2000 (Yankees). That kind of parity is part of what makes baseball great, but the Dodgers are heavy favorites (+300) to win another World Series.

The big picture: Between the new ball, the new rules carried over from 2020, and the experiments being conducted in the minors, the push to evolve — and improve — the game of baseball has never been stronger.

"I think everyone in the game can look at the product on the field right now and say ... while we love it, and baseball is as important to us and as special to us as ever, it's probably not the very best version of the game that's possible in the universe."
— Theo Epstein, via The Athletic
Data: Axios research; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

66% of Americans say they feel comfortable attending an outdoor sporting event such as baseball, according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

  • Meanwhile, just 32% percent say they feel comfortable attending an indoor event such as basketball or hockey.
Opening Day schedule: 15 games
Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Early afternoon: The season gets underway at Yankee Stadium, which will continue to operate as a vaccination center through at least April 30.

  • 1:05pm ET: Blue Jays (Ryu) vs. Yankees (Cole)
  • 1:10pm: Indians (Bieber) vs. Tigers (Boyd)
  • 2:10pm: Orioles (Means) vs. Red Sox (Eovaldi)
  • 2:10pm: Twins (Maeda) vs. Brewers (Woodruff)
  • 2:20pm: Pirates (Kuhl) vs. Hendricks (Cubs)
  • 3:05pm: Braves (Fried) vs. Phillies (Nola)

Late afternoon: Five games, all starting at the same time. Make sure you power up the iPad for prime multi-screen viewing.

  • 4:10pm: Diamondbacks (Bumgarner) vs. Padres (Darvish)
  • 4:10pm: Dodgers (Kershaw) vs. Rockies (Marquez)
  • 4:10pm: Cardinals (Flaherty) vs. Reds (Castillo)
  • 4:10pm: Rays (Glasnow) vs. Marlins (Alcántara)
  • 4:10pm: Rangers (Gibson) vs. Royals (Keller)

Night: The nation's capital will play host to the day's best pitching duel, with two multi-Cy Young winners facing off at Nationals Park.

  • 7:10pm: Mets (deGrom) vs. Nationals (Scherzer)
  • 10:05pm: White Sox (Giolito) vs. Angels (Bundy)
  • 10:05pm: Astros (Greinke) vs. A's (Bassitt)
  • 10:10pm: Giants (Gausman) vs. Mariners (Gonzales)

Fun fact: Max Fried, Jack Flaherty and Lucas Giolito were all high school teammates at Harvard-Westlake in 2012. Nine years later, all three are Opening Day starters.

Go deeper:

Sign up for my daily newsletter Axios Sports for more content like this.

Go deeper

Washington Nationals player tests positive for COVID on eve of opener

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland, last August. Photo: G Fiume/Getty Images

On the eve of the MLB regular season's start, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced a player has tested positive for COVID-19, and four teammates and a staffer are in quarantine.

Why it matters: Major League Baseball is still reeling from the impact of the coronavirus last season, when sponsor revenue plummeted by up to 60% and players' salary also fell, as the pandemic shortened the season.

What we know about the victims of the Indianapolis mass shooting

Officials load a body into a vehicle at the site of the mass shooting in Indianapolis. Photo:

Eight people who were killed along with several others who were injured in a Thursday evening shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis have been identified by local law enforcement.

The big picture: The Sikh Coalition said at least four of the eight victims were members of the Indianapolis Sikh community.

Pompeo, wife misused State Dept. resources, federal watchdog finds

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The State Department's independent watchdog found that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules when he and his wife asked department employees to perform personal tasks on more than 100 occasions, including picking up their dog and making private dinner reservations.

Why it matters: The report comes as Pompeo pours money into a new political group amid speculation about a possible 2024 presidential run.