Coronavirus puts baseball, no matter how beloved, in proper perspective

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

Dark ballparks and bored ballplayers are of no consequence today. They are penciled notes in the margins of crisis. 

The venues and protagonists are spectators, same as nearly everyone, no more or less vital to what happens next. Baseball will go home to its children and check in with its moms and dads, and wonder to itself in the quiet, “Do I feel warm?” It lives among us.

The world has become complicated again, the way it does sometimes. Only this time, baseball could not be allowed to do its work. Distraction is fuel for this thing, in intellectual and ethical theory and in the hundreds of thousands of real people who seek a real moment’s pause from something like, for one, a global pandemic.

Coronavirus

It looks the same on Broadway, at Disney, on the seas. There will be no college basketball tournament. No golf. There is no music. When we need each other most, standing against the winds of fear, what sounds best is a box seat, a sunset, a cold beer and strike one. What sounds best is escape.

Instead, for a while, it is baseball — and events like it — that bring us into danger. Into the unknown. Into maybe. That’s the evil of it. Where it comes to life.

This is baseball, the same goes for football and soccer and basketball and pick your sport, and this is where we spend our spare time, our spare money, our spare loyalties. That is, whatever’s left over. 

The rest is before us, the real life, the part where we share the responsibilities for what happens next. And become players in what happens next. And live with what happens next. For now, that comes amid that global threat. It won’t always. One day, when the crowds return, we will decide again what is of consequence and what is left over. Perhaps then we will recall that it was compassion and sacrifice and plain kindness that put us back in our seats and put them back on the fields.

So there will be no baseball for a while, no sports at all really. On Thursday Major League Baseball announced it had canceled the remainder of spring training and suspended the first two weeks of the regular season, into the second week of April. After that, it does not know. It cannot know. The best it can say today, in fact, is, “I don’t know,” because everything else is a guess. There’s been so much guessing.

Major League Baseball canceled the rest of spring training and delayed opening day by at least two weeks on Thursday as concerns over the coronavirus brought the sports world to a halt. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

The details of when or how the season will start, of when it will end, of who gets paid, of where it will be played, of what any of it will look like, are the rations of another day. MLB finally ran for cover, the way the NBA had and the NCAA and everyone else would, the way schools had, and as airports and concert halls and birthday parties and jury boxes and playgrounds and malls began to empty. It is good that MLB did, too, as the only fools in the end will be those who might have made a difference and chose otherwise. 

(They played exhibition baseball games in front of thousands in Florida on Thursday afternoon. Those seemed negligent. Or reckless. As if baseball hadn’t gotten to “I don’t know” quite fast enough.)

The only reasonable response on a chaotic Thursday afternoon was, “Well, of course. It’s only baseball.” The only reasonable response to that was a dull ache near the heart.

It was time to get out of the way of the people who will help us. The doctors and the nurses and the technicians. The people who will lead the fight. The people who will find a way out. Those who will clean up after it.

It was time to stop pretending this was someone else’s burden. That this virus chooses its course based on anything other than who is in the wrong place at the wrong time, then who is standing nearby.

It was time to remember that “non-essential” probably meant your sport, too, and your love, and your escape, and maybe you hadn’t ever considered that before. With any luck, it will be temporary. And then we will have earned the right again to sit shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger so there is someone to high five and someone to hug and someone with whom to share our nachos. Someone with whom to share our escape.

Until then, feel bad for the college and high school kids who won’t have another season to play for. Do something for the people who put those kids through college with jobs at the local ballpark or arena. And remember, try to remember, the reasons you started loving the games to begin with.

It probably wasn’t to shout at people with Houston Astros avatars. It probably wasn’t to hate the general manager of the team in town. It probably wasn’t to beat the crap out of somebody wearing the wrong cap in a parking lot.

The same, by the way, goes for the ballplayers. This is how quickly the games can be gone. Even a few count. There are a finite number of those.

More, this is an opportunity to put it all where it belongs. To go home to our children, to check in with our moms and dads, to gird ourselves against the haunting fear, “Do I feel warm?” Look, nobody’s last words are, “I only wish the Royals had won more games.” 

So there won’t be baseball for a while. If that is the worst that comes of the next weeks or months, if that is all there could be to mourn, then know there will be escape from what is next. Almost always, baseball has been there for those times. It will be again. There will be box seats. There will be sunsets. There will be strike one. It’d better come with a beer.

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