So it finally hit me that baseball might be in some jeopardy. Now I don’t know anything in particular or have any inside source, but it just occurred to me that there is a chance we won’t have baseball — or at least in the manner we are used to.
My 21-year-old son is home from school on his unscheduled corona hiatus and was playing some type of Playstation MLB video game and before too long, I became way too interested in it — and trust me, I hate video games.
He was calling pitches, spotting the corners and trying to get Willie Mays to chase some high heat, as one-after-another he struck out cyber-versions of the legends of the game. Probably every other time in my life I would have walked past whichever gaming system (PS1, PS2, Dreamcast, Wii, Cube, Nintendo, xBox, Gameboy, etc.) that was currently dominating his life, turn my nose up in the air and make some comment like “Back in my day the only technology we had was a Schwinn with a banana seat, a sharp stick and our imaginations.”
But not to today. I was too busy waiting to see if PlayStation Lou Brock was going to take the extra base or if Cyber-Tom Seaver’s right knee dragged across the mound on his follow through. The more he played (and tried to ignore me) the more involved I became.
“Can you make them play in the Polo Grounds or Crosley Field?” I asked, as I then proceeded to try to show him internet images of just how close Yankee Stadium was to the Polo Grounds (from one side of the Harlem River to the other with a walking bridge in between).
It was at that point I realized I was desperate, and that this was not going to be a normal baseball season.
We are just a day away from when baseball is supposed to be celebrating opening day. This is when high school teams practice in hoodies and a hard single could feel like an angry swarm of bees in your hands.
It is cold, overcast, but if baseball is being played, spring is not far behind.
During the early 1990s, I had a couple of friends who went to opening day with me at Wrigley every year for about seven or eight seasons. It was always freezing and if you were out of the sun under the upper deck, it was unbearably cold (which really only meant that the Old Style was guaranteed to stay cold). There was always an incredible energy around opening day, with music, food and celebration.
I was there the day Chicago Cub legend Tuffy Rhodes hit three home runs off the Mets (two off Doc Gooden) and then proceeded to hit only about four more over the course of his entire career. One year I saw Danny Jackson shut down the Cardinals and I was pretty sure he was better than Greg Maddux at the time. I caught a home run ball off Cubs catcher Hector Villanueva, a ball that is worth about $3 on eBay today.
But it isn’t just the environment around major league baseball that is missed; it is baseball on a local level. It is seeing the kids on opening day lined up like gum drops across the infield, as the mayor throws out the first pitch. There is a special sound of high school kids getting off the bus as their spikes click and clack across the pavement or a wooden fungo bat making contact, as a coach hits soft fly balls into the outfield.
Sometimes it’s infield chatter or a distant public address announcer echoing a mile away on a hot night. Sometimes it’s the taste of sunflower seeds or Big League Chew that instantly takes you to another time and place, but it is some element of the game that will always serve to create a baseball-induced smile.
Right now, I don’t care who was video taping whom or what signal was being banged out in Morse Code on a trash can — all is forgiven baseball, please come home.
America has a lot of needs right now and salvaging baseball this year might not be at the very top of the list, but it sure feels like it. Maybe in a couple of weeks we will get the “all clear” and pitchers and catchers can report back to a field near you. One thing is for sure, I think it will help us know we won.