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A Yankees blogger’s reflection on the shutdown

As the first baseball game of the season looms in just a few hours, let’s reflect on the road we’ve traveled together.

Texas Rangers v New York Yankees Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB via Getty Images

The news came while I was wiping tables, just about to start my break during a double-shift at the University dining hall, roughly 2:00 on the Tuesday before spring break: due to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic, spring break was to begin early, with Thursday and Friday classes of that week canceled, and all classes would move online for at least the next two weeks. The dining hall erupted with the news, the confirmation of what had been only a week’s worth of speculation, but had seemed so much longer. The rest of the shift, the only thing anybody talked about was the pandemic.

A few hours later, I clocked out, and returned to the Classics library to pick up my books. More questions than answers remained. Would I still have a job after spring break? Would it be possible for classes to return during the semester? Would the department library remain open to graduate students? In time, I learned that the answer to all three questions was, and still is, “No.” In fact, aside from a few chance encounters at the grocery store or out walking to get fresh air, that was the last time I saw most of my classmates, dining hall coworkers, and professors in person.

While I worked to turn my bedroom into a home office, the world continued to erupt into chaos as the spread of the virus became more known. On the following day, March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, while the NBA shut down. Then the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament — in which my alma mater, the Villanova Wildcats, were once again prime contenders — was cancelled for the first time in its history. Whispers that Major League Baseball would follow suit and suspend its season began to circulate, until at last, the news dropped: the 2020 season would be pushed back at least two weeks. Man, how optimistic that was.

Amidst it all, I turned and looked at my schedule for March 13: organize the daily link roundups for Pinstripe Alley, and write the season preview post for Luke Voit — a small beacon of normalcy in a time of chaos. I even poked fun at it all, with the homepage headline for March 14 being Tony Stark’s prophetic line from Avengers: Infinity War, “Earth is closed today.”

The early days of the shutdown actually provided an influx of things to write about on the site. How might the scouting moratorium affect the trade market? What are the contractual implications of a shortened season? Could we see expanded rosters in 2020? These articles, and many more besides, saw writers grapple with the unfamiliar circumstances that would undoubtedly plague the 2020 season and beyond, whenever it started.

And then April hit, and there was...silence. News was few and far between, and for good reason: I know it seems sacrilegious, but some things are more important than baseball, and the public health and safety certainly tops that list. And yet, out of this slow period emerged such a wide variety of articles and series that really gave the place such personality. One week in April was dedicated to the 2003 Yankees, the team that we as a staff decided was the best Yankees team to not win the championship (a harder task than it seems). May saw Tyler, Jake, Ryan C., Josh, Ryan P., and Dan B. put together the wonderful Rebuilt series, which is probably my favorite thing the site has done ever since I began reading it as a high school student in the last week of the Pinstriped Bible days.

How do you write about something that doesn’t exist? I can’t speak for everybody else, but the suspended season was liberating as a writer. Of course, I wish that a pandemic did not exist and the shutdown never needed to happen. But purely on a literary and journalism level, the lack of news forced us to grapple with sports in new ways. We used video games to run a wide variety of simulations, testing theories about lineup construction, determining the greatest Yankees championship squad, building the hypothetical perfect player, and much, much more. Joe focused on the personal lives of the Yankees, giving us weekly social media updates about our favorite stars. Evan adapted the famous “Casey at the Bat” and made it about DJ LeMahieu, attracting the attention of the second baseman’s mother!

As for myself, I dove into history, writing pieces on how the Yankees became known as the Evil Empire, on the evolution of the “Yankee name,” and on how the rivalry between New York and Boston can be dated all the way back to the Dutch and Puritan colonies in the early days of colonial America. It can be easy to forget just how much sports reflects and shapes broader trends in society — cultural, economic, and even political — when we’re wrapped up in the excited optimism of spring training, the daily grind of a 162-game season, the heartbreak of a playoff run, and the allurement of the offseason. Baseball may not have the same impact as, for example, chariot racing did in ancient Rome, when your choice between the Blues, Greens, Reds, and Whites quite literally shaped your political career, but make no mistake, it was shaped by and continues to shape American society.

Of course, we have been able to see, and currently still can, see this in the worldwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Much of the discussion over the last few years has focused not on the systemic issues in society, but rather on the role sports plays as a mirror to society, how it has been complicit in perpetuating problems, and how it can be used as a positive force for good. The NFL and NBA have been at the forefront of this in all aspects, both good and bad, although MLB has recently been thrust into the spotlight on this, and for good reason.

I wouldn’t call Pinstripe Alley an escape during quarantine: to do so would neglect the harsh truths we had to face and the difficult discussions we had to have on race, public health, and labor relations. But perhaps that is the point. We have all been forced to do something very different than we ever have before, and trying to find the work/life balance has been very difficult for a lot of people, myself included. Some days, I find myself spending all day engrossed in Greek and Latin texts, doing work for my classes; other days, those same books lie open in front of my desk, as I spend hours upon hours on Netflix and Disney+ “taking a short break.” It’s a very easy trap to fall into when your bed, your sofa, your television, and your desk are all within six feet of each other.

Blogging, however, has forced me to step back from my day-to-day life, and apply myself to something that we all here at Pinstripe Alley — writers, commenters, and silent readers alike — share a love in: Yankees baseball. We’ve all been here, together but socially distanced, sharing this road together.

At the time that you will be reading this, roughly 2:00 on Thursday, I am in my kitchen, throwing together a quick lunch between virtual meetings. Just a few minutes prior, I concluded a Zoom reading group with three of my fellow grad students, reading Aeschylus’s tragedy Agamemnon. After eating, I will log into another one, in which we discuss philosophical, sociological, economic, and other theoretical approaches to the study of ancient history; the topic this week is slavery, and how we can apply modern sociological discussions of the issue to the ancient world.

Much has changed since that afternoon more than four months ago, when the pandemic first made its first major impact on my life, the first of many. Tonight, however, after I turn on the television and tune in to watch Gerrit Cole make his first regular season appearance as New York Yankee, I will do the same thing I did during those first turbulent days: open up a new tab in Google Chrome, and type into the searchbar, and click enter.

Aside from Yankee Stadium itself, there’s no place I’d rather watch the game at.