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Take me back to the ball game

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Thoughts from a Yankees fan after returning to the park.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies
Coors Field
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night, for the first time since the Rockies’ final home game of 2019, I attended a Major League Baseball game at Coors Field. I paid too much for food and drink, heartily booed the Dodgers (I really wanted to boo Mookie Betts, but he was out of the lineup), and soaked in the familiar feeling of a live sporting event. The return of baseball – in its 162-game form – represented, for me at least, an indication of normalcy after an incredibly abnormal year. Last year’s pandemic-shortened, 60-game baseball season, in stadia bereft of fans, did nothing more than whet my appetite. And not just because the Yankees disappointed in the playoffs. With intra-divisional schedules, no fans in the stands, and rule changes that have proven… divisive, the 2020 season did not seem “real.”

Even with the return of fans (in limited capacity) and the 162-game marathon schedule that makes baseball great, the ballpark Saturday night was not exactly the same as it was before. A Saturday night tilt against the Dodgers at Coors Field, with the temperature in the mid-70s at first pitch? In the Before Times, that’s 50,000 fans (half of whom would be Dodgers fans for some reason). Saturday was a fraction of that number – about 20,000. The pessimistic, COVID-beaten part of me worries that Saturday’s game, and baseball more broadly, are metaphors for the new world we live in, and that we have to get used to attending events at diminished capacity.

But the baseball fan in me, the optimist whose hope never burns brighter than on Opening Weekend when everything is still possible, sees signs that Saturday’s game is a harbinger of better things to come. Some things remain unchanged. Fight the lines to get into the stadium. Pay $13 for a large can of Coors Light. Too many Dodgers fans. Importantly, even at limited fan capacity, it felt like being at a baseball game. Thousands of individual conversations still combine to produce the buzz that permeates the stadium. Players still toss balls to fans in the stands. The sights and the sounds and the smells are a familiar comfort. The act of sitting in the stands for three hours with friends, talking about baseball and life, and jeering Cody Bellinger. That is still the same. By the time the third inning rolled around Saturday night, it was easy to get lost in the experience of watching a ballgame in person once again.

This my first article for Pinstripe Alley, so I should probably tie it back to the Yankees. Yankees Twitter is full of pictures and tweets from Yankee Stadium this past weekend. On Saturday night, I wondered about how the 2021 Rockies could affect this year’s Yankees. After all, the Rockies have proven to be Friends of the Yankees – by letting DJ LeMahieu walk in free agency, by dealing Mike Tauchman.

The Rockies are not going to be a good baseball team this season and they are likely to go into seller mode sooner rather than later. The big prize for the Yankees would probably be Germán Marquez, and sportswriters and bloggers spilled a lot of ink throughout the off-season about whether New York should pursue him. The Rockies of course also have superstar Trevor Story headed into free agency after this season, but he seems an unlikely deadline addition, considering the haul Colorado would demand for a few months of his service.

One name not often mentioned is Daniel Bard. After six years absent from the majors, he returned last season. In 24.2 innings, he pitched to a 143 ERA+, a 3.64 FIP, and accrued 0.9 bWAR. Saturday night, he whiffed Matt Beaty swinging on an 89-mph slider and froze Austin Barnes with a 98.5-mph heater. If he repeats his performance in 2021, perhaps he is a target if (when?) Cashman goes shopping for bullpen help. At just under $3 million dollars for 2021, a pro-rated pickup of Bard would likely still leave Cashman some flexibility regarding the luxury tax while buttressing the ‘pen. If 2020 was a mirage and Bard’s performance falls off a cliff, never mind. It seems intuitive, though, that with the innings limitations on all starters other than Gerrit Cole, Cashman will turn over every rock to fortify the bullpen before the stretch run.

Notwithstanding any business that is or is not done between the Rockies and the Yankees this season, the larger implications of Saturday night at the ballpark remain. Fans are still masked, and attendance is a fraction of the number it would have been before. Nonetheless, it felt like progress. We are back at games. There is a glimmer of hope that when the Yankees play in the World Series this fall, Yankee Stadium will be shaking with the electric energy of tens of thousands of fanatics.