Baseball was meant to be played today. As recently as the beginning of this month, most expected Opening Day to kick off on this day, March 26th. The 2020 season was to begin, setting in motion a course of events that would eventually culminate with the crowning of a World Series champion for the 116th time in history.
Of course, that will not happen. Two weeks ago, MLB suspended spring training, and announced that the start of the regular season would be pushed back two weeks at minimum, in response to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and across the globe. It’s now become clear that the delay will last much longer, with virtually every sporting body in the world sidelined indefinitely.
The suspension of a baseball is undoubtedly one of the more frivolous after-effects of a global pandemic. Thousands have already died due to the spread of COVID-19, and thousands more will. Countless health-care professionals have worked themselves to exhaustion or fallen sick themselves, fighting on the frontlines against an enemy that we cannot see or even defend ourselves against. Those of us that can’t help outside are mostly reduced to sitting inside (though there are a few things we can do, such as donate to a local food bank). The world has screeched to a halt, and that some grown adults cannot wear their pinstriped pajamas and chase a ball feels almost irrelevant.
A global crisis does serve a twin purpose, however. It reminds us that something as trivial as sport doesn’t matter. It also reminds us that it matters a great, great deal.
As meaningless as sport is in the grand scheme of things, it’s also the meaningless thing to which we as a society have assigned tremendous importance. People care about sports, and thus sports matter.
Moreover, sports are exactly the kind of frivolous distraction that millions of people happily turn to during times of crisis, as our own Josh Diemert discussed last weekend. There’s no such thing as sticking to sports, as the forces of politics and culture will always intertwine with the product on the field, but just because serious stuff mixes with sports has never meant that sports are unable to provide some relief from the serious stuff. Sports are perhaps the most ridiculous part of our civilization, and, with their unparalleled ability to allow for shared experience and feeling, sort of the whole point of having a civilization at all.
But here we are, in a position where we’ve never needed something like baseball more than we do now, unable to follow the game we love. That is what has me personally reeling on Opening Day, and had me thinking about all the things that we will miss today, and in the coming weeks.
Most broadly, we’ll miss the symbolic role Opening Day plays. It’s cliche to say that Opening Day represents hope, as winter thaws, spring begins, and anything seems possible. You’ll also note that cliches are often cliche because they’re true. We were supposed to have a nationwide day of rebirth, of wishful thinking and ambition. We will instead do our civic duty by eating hummus in the dark for the twelfth day in a row.
More specifically, there’s an infinite number of smaller bits of baseball that we’ll miss. I’m not sure there’s anything baseball-related that breaks my heart more than the thought of missing out on Gerrit Cole’s first start in pinstripes. The Yankees had lined up their new ace to take the mound at the home opener in the Bronx. This may have been the most anticipated Yankees regular season contest since, I don’t know, Derek Jeter’s last home game? The anticipation of this game kept me up at night all winter. It’s gone, now.
We’ll miss getting to see Gleyber Torres take the next step towards superstardom this spring. We’ll miss hoping against hope that this is the month that Giancarlo Stanton’s injury woes take a turn for the better, and that he mashes back-to-back 500-foot homers with Aaron Judge. We’ll miss seeing Gio Urshela assure us that last year was no fluke, and for the rest of the Next Man Up brigade to step up again.
We’ll miss watching Masahiro Tanaka make his fifth Opening Day start, here in the final season of his contract with the Yankees. We’ll miss learning if Jordan Montgomery, finally healthy, can help replace the injured James Paxton. We’ll miss seeing the delightfully insane Tommy Kahnle every day.
Still, for everything we shall miss, it is everything we hope to gain again some day. No one knows when another MLB game will be played, just as no one knows when our collective ordeal will end. Perhaps baseball returns in June. Perhaps it returns in July without fans. Maybe the 2020 season is entirely canceled.
But one thing remains certain: for as long as we’re here, there will be baseball. That is so because we as a people have made it so, because we love sport. Once baseball does return, the Yankees will return, and so will the chance to see all those things we missed.
So too will the crack of the bat return, and the smell of peanuts, and that crisp, crisp green grass in the outfield. So will the briskly-turned 6-4-3 double plays, the seeing-eye basehits, the steals of home and the hustle doubles and the walkoff balks. All of it. I don’t know when that will be. I do hope that it is soon.
Let us know in the comments what you’re missing most on this non-Opening Day, and what you hope we might still get to see this year.