Washington Nationals manager David Martinez reviews his lineup during a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. Photo: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Young athletes are the future, but in the strange ecosystem that is sports in 2020, veteran players could be just what the doctor ordered.

The state of play: In the NBA and MLB in particular, rule changes, condensed schedules and the basic need for warm bodies have thrust aging role players into the spotlight.

  • NBA: Jamal Crawford (40), J.R. Smith (34) and Joakim Noah (35) are among the free agents signed in recent weeks to plug holes on rosters affected by COVID-19.
  • MLB: With the universal DH temporarily adopted to protect pitchers, bat-first veterans like Daniel Murphy (35), Howie Kendrick (37) and Hunter Pence (37) will get the opportunity to regularly contribute in the National League without managers having to worry about wear-and-tear or defensive ineptitude.

The big picture: Much like playoff contenders relying on the experience of their wily vets, teams in 2020 will lean on older players more than ever to provide a sense of calming perspective amid bizarre circumstances.

  • Taking it a step further, the "it's a sprint, not a marathon" reality of this summer's condensed schedule should give older players a chance to contribute physically in ways a full season might not allow.

The bottom line: An over-the-hill role player shifting their team's fate when you least expected it could be a morsel of cheery news during a year of sadness.

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