EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly column from former sports reporter and editor Mike Bass. Bass will be contributing to The Enquirer by offering advice for sports fans, athletes and youth sports parents and coaches through a weekly Q&A. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @SportsFanCoach1.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
— Rogers Hornsby, Baseball Hall of Famer
It is the middle of February, and pitchers and catchers reported on time for spring training, and my internal clock feels recalibrated.
I missed this.
Before COVID-19, we swayed to the rhythm of the sports calendar. We relied on it. March, for instance, was Madness. May bookended the Run for the Roses and Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Labor Day meant summer was over and football was back.
The circle of fan life rolled merrily along, until COVID-19 froze the system like a spinning cursor/beachball.
Sports shut down in March. Nobody could be certain how long this would last. For fans, one day felt like another. And they were not alone. Some people felt time slowing down; some, speeding up.
“The running joke is, you know, we used to have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and now we just have Day, Day, Day, Day, Day,” UCLA professor of behavioral neuroscience Dean Buonomano said in May, the Washington Post reported in September. “We’ve sort of lost our mental landmarks or temporal boundaries for days.”
Knowing can breed comfort; uncertainty, discomfort. Same with our pastimes. Our games were off, and we were off our games.
Sports trickled back, but not always smoothly. Games were rescheduled and sometimes rescheduled again. The NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs began in August bubbles. The Olympics were pushed to 2021. Wimbledon was canceled.
If we didn’t always handle this particularly well, we were normal. Some of us build evenings or weekends or vacations around sporting events, never anticipating cardboard cutouts in our seats.
We tried to adapt to an out-of-order timetable. We watched, or we didn’t watch, as the NBA Finals and MLB playoffs intersected in October.
That was weird. Necessary, but weird.
And now here come pitchers and catchers for the start of spring training, on time, and an unexpected if tenuous gift: Normality.
MLB, citing COVID-19 concerns, had proposed delaying spring training a month and shortening the season to 154 games. The players said no. The two sides don’t trust each other, and we don’t know what to believe. Is it safe? How safe?
Nobody can be sure. Baseball in 2021 is better prepared for this than in 2020, and so are we. That is comforting. Knowing we can be flexible can help us stay present and appreciate this gift.
Spring training is here, and it is a smile. A friend called it an annual sign that spring (the quarterly season) is coming. This is Punxsutawney Phil emerging to remove any shadow of a doubt, a Groundhog Day we want to repeat.
Spring training is retelling old stories and starting new ones. I remember walking and chatting outside the Mariners’ complex with Ken Griffey Sr. about one of the many subjects that made him and his life and his career so fascinating. I remember sitting in new Giants general manager Bob Quinn, who joyfully insisted I take a team cap because he never could do such a thing running the championship-winning but penny-pinching Reds.
Spring training is hope. No matter what happened last season or in the offseason, hope eases despair and inspires the next worst-to-first finish.
Hope is believing tomorrow will be brighter, with warmer weather and real games and packed ballparks, and without COVID, one day. Hope does not need to be any more than it is today, because hope today feels wonderful.
Today, we have pitchers and catchers and spring training. Today, my inner sports calendar is perfect.