Take us out
I was looking forward to the game for months. It’s not like I really had a strong rooting interest as the Yankees took on the Nationals, but at least it was baseball. Real baseball that counted toward the standings. I switched on ESPN. I knew hours had passed since Dr. Fauci threw out the ceremonial pitch, but I figured I’d be able to watch a couple of innings, perhaps catch an exciting conclusion.
I hadn’t counted on torrents of rain turning the stairways at Nationals Park into waterfalls. The game was delayed on account of the weather, and soon, it’d be called early—a game that’s supposed to be nine innings made official after just six. Baseball’s 2020 opening had come to an abrupt halt.
Still, plenty of games followed, and I felt myself becoming more invested than ever. In less than a week, I’ve watched the Mets play three games. I’ve watched the Diamondbacks play the Padres, the Cubs play the Brewers. I refresh the MLB scoreboard on my phone multiple times a day. My intense interest in this season is obvious. For one, Major League Baseball is the first of the “Big 4” sports to return following the Covid-19 outbreak. Add to this that the season is extremely condensed (60 games instead of 162) and the importance of every matchup is basically tripled. It’s like watching playoff baseball in July.
On TV, the game looks and feels like the real thing. The announcers are just as energetic, even if they are calling the game from a studio. It hasn’t bothered me at all that the only fans in the stadiums are made of cardboard. Or that the crowd noise is pre-recorded. How many people would really be in the stands watching the Mets play an afternoon game in July anyway?
Then news came that the Miami Marlins had 11 players test positive for Covid. At the time of writing, the number had climbed to 17 positive tests affiliated with the team. The Marlins suspended all baseball operations through the end of the week, and more dominoes could be set to fall. The Phillies have already had to postpone games, since they hosted the Marlins for the opening series, and the Yankees and Orioles—which were set to be the Phillies’ and Marlins’ next opponents—have had to reshuffle schedules. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said that if one team isn’t able to play, the entire season could be called off.
All of this is a reminder that we can’t simply forget about the realities of the world. As a sports fan, this is something with which I struggle greatly. I’m easily taken by the romance of sports—the underdog stories, the play-play-play calls that give me chills. But I’m never more than a moment away from thinking about the ugliness of pro sports. The mega-business that it is, the harm that it can inflict on players. David Price, a prominent pitcher for the Dodgers, has opted out of the current MLB season because he didn’t want to assume the health risk. He doesn’t believe baseball and its owners have the players’ best interest at heart. Do they ever?
Baseball is dubbed America’s pastime. But our favorite sport is, no doubt, football. It’s interesting to me that while other U.S. leagues of sports with broader international appeal—soccer and basketball—have opted to operate within a bubble, MLB and the NFL have refused this model. Rather than isolating in one location, baseball and football, like so many Americans, have chosen to continue life as normally as possible. It’s exactly what we’d expect from two leagues that always seem to have their priorities backward. The NFL has long quashed controversy and those who speak critically (just look at Colin Kaepernick.) And baseball can’t ever seem to stop worrying about money. The strike in the mid-90s was definitely a shadow looming over the tense negotiations between players and owners leading up to the current season.
I definitely feel somewhat complicit, given that I consider myself a fan of both leagues. It’s hard to ignore the fact that while I was watching baseball this weekend, mothers were taking to the streets in Portland to advocate for Black lives. Others were demonstrating right here in Seattle.
Circumstances didn’t allow for me to listen to much of the first Mariners game, but I wanted to hear the first batter at least, to once again be soothed by Rick Rizzs’ tenor calling balls and strikes. As Shed Long, Jr. stepped to the plate, and the fake crowd thundered, I felt the familiar butterflies that greet me at the start of every season. Long came out swinging, sending the first pitch sailing into the outfield. But it was a harmless fly ball, and just like that, he was out. —Andrew Waite