Baseball is back, and it’s a thing of beauty. No, America’s pastime is not the same, but it’s still a pretty and welcoming sight.

Dodger Stadium featured cardboard cutouts of fans on Thursday to avoid a completely empty ballpark as we’ll see in several cities. Crowd noise is generated by the press of a button (sidenote: what if the person hits the “boo” button instead of “cheer?” Awkward.). Masks are donned by managers and coaches — and by players when in the dugout or by a first baseman carrying on a conversation with a player who just singled or walked.

It was fitting that a shortened game initiated a shortened season — it rained cats and dogs (as opposed to donkeys and elephants) in Washington, D.C. The game was ruled official after precipitation poured, giving the New York Yankees a 4-1 victory over the hometown, defending World Series champions Nationals, after five complete innings.

Giancarlo Stanton hit a mammoth, two-run home run to help wipe out the memory of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s “just-a-bit-outside” first-pitch delivery.

Fauci’s presence was another reminder of why July 23 was Opening Day in 2020 — he’s been one of the central figures throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic. Since he’s been relied on as a medical expert, hopefully that errant pitch is one of the few things “off the mark” about Fauci.

In the nightcap, the Dodgers showed just how ferocious their lineup is. They exploded for five runs in a decisive seventh inning, which propelled them to an 8-1 victory in Los Angeles. Permanent smiles were plastered across the faces of the cardboard fans — they were too amped-up to vacate Dodger Stadium, where typically fans show up fashionably late and skip out a little early.

For the Nats, Yankees, Dodgers and Giants, there are only 59 games to go. It’s already put-up-or-shut-up time.

There are some funky rules this year, including starting extra innings with a runner on second, a universal designated hitter and an expanded postseason that will include 16 of the 30 teams.

It’s weird, but it’s a good weird, a refreshing weird. What else is new in 2020?

But it’s baseball. It’s America’s pastime, but it’s also America’s escape. It’s three hours a day spent enjoying a wonderful game full of rich tradition. It’s been a reprieve from wars and tragedy throughout its existence.

Let’s enjoy the 2020 baseball season. Let’s enjoy this thing of beauty.

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