The worst days are the ones like we had Tuesday, or one the forecasters insist we’re getting Wednesday. When it’s rainy and cloudy — or, last weekend, snowy — that’s when it’s easier to forget that we are missing our daily fix, our regular diet of baseball.
It’s when the sun shines high in an impossibly blue sky, when there’s just enough warmth to kiss your flesh and promise that summer is coming … well, those make the absence seem all the more real. All the more depressing.
And it doesn’t even matter that neither the Mets nor Yankees were scheduled to play in the afternoon on either of these days. Both, in fact, would’ve been on the road, far removed from the city, the Mets in Phoenix and the Yankees in St. Petersburg.
That’s all right, though: so much of why baseball appeals to us is rooted illusion, after all: the fanciful figment of a perfect pennant chase; the strident belief that today’s loss will surely be followed by tomorrow’s win; the mirage of eternal summer.
And now, of course: the belief that if baseball can only come back, in some form or fashion, then we can start to feel like ourselves again. We can start to feel whole again. Yes, we can yearn similarly for eating inside a restaurant again, drinking inside a saloon, attending a Broadway play, walking breezily along Fifth Avenue without a mask fogging up our sunglasses.
But baseball is the balm, because baseball has always served that purpose. It is not a remedy because it never is. Baseball didn’t bring our loved ones back after 9/11. Baseball didn’t prevent our bravest souls from dying on the beaches of Europe or the islands of Asia. Baseball will neither invent a vaccine for COVID-19, nor will it ease the suffering of those already afflicted or the anxieties of everyone else.
Still, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who, not long after Pearl Harbor, encouraged commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to keep baseball going even in the darkest days of war: “These players are a definite recreational asset to at least 20 million of their fellow citizens — and that, in my judgement, is thoroughly worthwhile.”
Roosevelt was certainly not going to compromise the nation’s war effort to strengthen its pastime; able-bodied men were still drafted, many of them shipped off to the theaters of conflict, others assigned by the various military branches to provide morale for the troops. Two of them — Harry O’Neill and Elmer Gedeon — lost their lives.
Similarly, even the most ardent fan would agree that there is no nobility in proceeding with a season if the players’ health isn’t a priority, also understanding that the regular testing necessitated wouldn’t deprive regular citizens of similar precautions. The first day of negotiations between owners and players honored that, with health and safety the primary point of discussion.
There are still obstacles beyond that, for sure, many of them, because we still aren’t sure which cities and how many cities will be opened by July. There is a question of relapse: if a player tests positive, does that only shut him down? His team? The whole sport? And, as always there is the issue of money, one we must hope the owners and players negotiate — and resolve — outside the glare of public scrutiny, or else risk public contempt.
So much of this still feels like a dream.
But that’s part if it too, isn’t it? Baseball sprouts from dreams, from the optimism of spring to the realities of October. It is peopled by dreamers, and fueled by them, by all of us for whom baseball is an essential fabric of our lives.
And so we dream some more: of the sport returning, of the games resuming, helping to bind our wounds and soothe our anguish. It won’t cure anything, we know that, we look elsewhere for cures and safeguards. We look to baseball for something else: a hint of how our lives used to be.
A trace of what we want them to be again.
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