Around the start of the baseball season, I like to wax poetic about our national past time.
But considering baseball was supposed to start in March, and here we are, finishing out opening weekend on the cusp of the start of the school year, this is what we are going to get.
Anyone who knows me knows of my deep love for the Cubs. So I’ve been chomping at the bit to get this thing started simply because of my fandom. But I also think there is something important about following baseball. Something patriotic. As much as I love football and as much as I know that it is far more popular than baseball, I can’t stomach something so violent as the crown jewel of our national pastimes. So I’m willing to accept the lie that baseball is still our national game. I’m even willing to participate in the deception in order to live in a world with a game soaked in cheating and gambling rather than one soaked in head injuries.
Also—I just love the rhythm. I love the habit. I love that it’s every day, the sounds and the smells, the peanuts and the cracker jacks. Sometimes rhythm and habit can be enough to drive a person mad, but it can also tether us to a time and a season. Summer is often so untethered. That’s one of the beauties of it. Even in the middle of it it can feel like it’s floating out there off in the distance. Baseball keeps it barely in reach. But only if I choose to participate.
So with that in mind, I was eagerly looking forward to opening weekend. I texted my buddy and fellow baseball obsessive Mat Smart several times the week prior, making sure that games were really starting this weekend. I made sure my MLB app was all paid up so I could watch the games. I bought vile, disgusting hotdogs to eat for occasion. During the lead up to the game, through all the pre-show buzz, the broadcasters kept reminding us how excited they were That baseball was back. They said it over and over again. Baseball is back. Baseball is back! I swear I’ve heard it 732 times in the first four games of the season. I felt like Gertrude answering Hamlet’s question about the Mousetrap. “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.”
And then at 7:05 on Friday night, Kyle Hendricks threw out the first pitch to a silent, empty Wrigley Field, and baseball was in fact back
Or was it?
Oh there were people throwing a ball and people trying to hit it back. There were the players I’ve grown to love and hate. And there is some novelty. Some purity. An empty stadium. The ball on the leather. The ball off the back. You can now hear a home run before you can see it. And the game seems, I don’t know, slower. It’s easier to get. Easier to see.
But it ain’t the same.
It feels like I’m watching a simulation. Like I’m in the practice mode of a video game. There was almost a fight between the Brewers and the Cubs the second game of the season, only because the stadium was so quiet the Cubs could hear the trash talk coming from the Brewers dugout. They weren’t even being that mean. Just things players say the whole game. But temps flared enough that players left the benches. That’s when they decided to blast organ music and fake crowd sounds just so one team couldn't hear the other team making fun of how the other team looked.
Not that I’m going to stop watching. It’s just another reminder that things are off. That things are weird. And of course to top it all off fourteen Florida Marlins come down with the virus after a span of only three games. Fourteen of the healthiest people on the planet caught the virus playing baseball. If they can catch it, then what the fuck am I doing?? So in addition to watching baseball through the filter of the Twilight Zone, we get a reminder of what is out there lurking. That nothing is safe. That nothing ever might ever be safe again.
But there’s a game tonight either way. At 6:40 p. m. I’ll be watching the Cubs and the Reds. Jaimie will be next to me on her phone. It won’t be the rhythm I wanted, but it will be a rhythm none the less. At least for a few days, until baseball is interrupted by school, which is interrupted by football, which brings us to the cold weather and the holidays and the schedules to meet and the deadlines to adhere to. Until we blink our eyes and it's March again, with hope springing eternal..