In a monologue from the movie Field of Dreams film-watchers are reminded that “Baseball has marked time.” Fandom provides entertainment, a measure of belonging and most importantly, a short but necessary distraction and respite from the daily grind. “It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again.”
I waited most of the fall and winter for a 162-game season, anticipating a spring and summer chocked full of compelling story lines, accompanying the rhythm and action of the National Pastime. My favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, ended last season in turmoil. The Cubs enter this campaign with many unanswered questions and a new skipper in the dugout.
Alas, the global pandemic delayed baseball’s Opening Day for nearly four months. Normally, a source of boundless joy, this year, my thoughts were accompanied by twinges of consternation. Revised plans for a compact 60-game season, played in 66 days, included games in ballparks without fans, expanded rosters, modified schedules, temporary rule changes and expanded playoffs. There are several challenges unique to this season in addition to the issues which manager’s routinely face.
Of course, logistics and the virus’s effects on the game are secondary to the health and safety of the public, stadium workers, as well as the players. As I reflected on the millions of cases of COVID-19, I began to wonder if there was going to be a season at all. For the first time in my life, I considered if there should be. I realize the impact sports has on our national psyche and economic benefit, but the importance of sports paled in comparison to the reality in the United States today.
Blake Snell, a 2017 American League Cy Young Award-winning Pitcher, stirred controversy when he stated that he didn’t want to risk his health for reduced pay. A small group of other players chose to opt out of the 2020 season citing COVID-19 health concerns, for themselves or their families. Other players have already tested positive since the season began only a few days ago.
I’m under no illusion that this season will go smoothly. There will be outbreaks which may curtail or cause the cancellation of an already abbreviated season. That said, baseball fans will get used to the quieter stadiums and rule changes and eventually settle into the new normal which includes baseball.
Inside Wrigley Field Friday night, television cameras outnumbered people. The faithful were practicing social distancing on rooftops across the street. Seeing people peering into a cathedral of baseball located at the corner of Clark and Addison, proved that baseball is able to provide a distraction when little else has.
Empty stadiums will eventually be full again. Some day we will reach for a hotdog and cheer as a baserunner rounds third base heading for home. We’ll talk about great players and plays with strangers in seat beside us. Until then, we can spend our time with the people and things we love. For many that includes watching the boys of summer play ball.