Play Ball! MLB's Opening Day Is Here: Changes In Safety And Diplomacy Are On Deck New technology, new safety measures, and a new relationship with Cuba are what reporter Jesse Sanchez says will be the big stories in baseball this year.
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Changes In Safety And Diplomacy Are On Deck For Baseball's Opening Day

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Changes In Safety And Diplomacy Are On Deck For Baseball's Opening Day

Changes In Safety And Diplomacy Are On Deck For Baseball's Opening Day

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

OK, let's stay with baseball because it is opening weekend. The highlight of opening day will be a rematch of the 2015 World Series teams with the Kansas City Royals hosting the New York Mets tomorrow evening. That's one of three games kicking off the season. MLB.com national reporter Jesse Sanchez has been following the progress of spring training in Phoenix. So we gave him a call to check in.

JESSE SANCHEZ: Hey there.

KELLY: So tell us what to look for these first few days.

SANCHEZ: Well, it starts Sunday with three games - Tampa Bay Rays are going to play the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates are also going to play. And the nightcap is going to be the rematch, as you mentioned, of the World Series - the Mets and the Royals. So it's an exciting day. I mean, opening day is always a special time in baseball. It's always a special time for family, fans. You know, everybody gets together, watch these games. Sunday, there are going to be three games. Twenty-two teams will play on Monday, and then two more play on Tuesday. So they're really kicking off with a bang, and I think everybody's really excited for that.

KELLY: Now, I gather fans will notice a few new things in the ballpark this season, one of which is that you cannot escape iPads anywhere in the 21st century, including now in dugouts.

SANCHEZ: That is correct. IPads, iPhones - they are everywhere. And then - and that's kind of the way it is now. Technology is really, you know, at the forefront, and I think baseball is following along that path. In the past, the same information would be available in notebooks, folders, papers. And this year, they're going to be available via iPad. So, you know, there's been mixed reactions on that. I think baseball's very traditional, so there are some managers and players who might not, you know, follow that path and use the iPad. But there are others who are really progressive and will use it. So it's going to be really interesting to watch.

KELLY: Another new thing - safety nets behind home plate. Tell us about that.

SANCHEZ: You know, last year, the commissioner, Rob Manfred - he recommended safety nets for, you know, teams at their home stadiums. So the purpose here is it's a safety measure. As you know - or people know, go to a baseball game, sitting up close - those are really great seats. And the beauty of it - you're right in the middle of the action. But at the same time, you have to be careful because you're right in the middle of the action. As someone who's been around baseball for almost 20 years and, you know, as a parent who, you know, takes kids to the game, you know, I think it's a good thing.

KELLY: OK, whether you're watching through a netting or not, tell us, Jesse Sanchez, who you're excited to watch. Which teams have you got your eye on?

SANCHEZ: You know, I think everybody this spring and even up to last year is talking about the Chicago Cubs. You know, they haven't won a World Series in, you know, more than 100 years.

KELLY: A long time, yeah.

SANCHEZ: A long time, and they really - they have a great manager and tons of young talent. And they are quite the buzz. They created quite the buzz in baseball. I think everybody is really anxious to see how they do during the regular season. I know several people who have picked them to win the World Series. So that's the team I'm really paying close attention. And I think, you know, the eyes of baseball are really watching. This is a good time to be a baseball fan. You really feel optimistic. Obviously, the season hasn't started, and this is when everybody feels like they have a chance. You know, it's a good time for baseball.

KELLY: One more thing to ask you about before we let you go, Jesse Sanchez, and that's with happening with Cuba. As part of the thaw underway in U.S.-Cuba relations, there are new rules that may allow Major League Baseball to start signing players directly from Cuba. How is that going to work?

SANCHEZ: You know what? I think this is a very interesting time in United States history. From a baseball standpoint, they are looking for ways to sign players directly from Cuba.

KELLY: Because in the past - in the past, the main way if a Cuban player wants to make it to the major leagues, he had to defect.

SANCHEZ: He did, and that was the really scary part. People would defect either late-night escapes on boats. You know, they'd go to Haiti or they'd go to Mexico or they'd abandon their teams during international tournaments in different, you know, parts of the world. And these guys are basically subjected to different types of people who I'm not sure if they have their best interests at heart. I mean, Commissioner Manfred has mentioned and members of the U.S. government have mentioned they want to alleviate the human trafficking element of this all. So I think that's the ultimate goal. Obviously, there's a lot of political hurdles before something like that can happen, but I think that's the ultimate goal.

KELLY: A lot to watch for this spring. That's Jesse Sanchez, national reporter for mlb.com. Thanks so much.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

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