Now that the world has fallen off its axis, and we’re whirling into some unknown void, it’s time to take stock. Most of us, barring the experts who are paid to anticipate disasters, have been shaken out of the complacency of our daily lives. I suppose everyone has a moment when something like this hits home. If we’re lucky, it’s not that we’re actually sick with the virus, or know someone who is, or are faced with job or wage loss because of it. The absence of some of our favorite pastimes doesn’t compare in importance, yet it produces a punch in the gut just the same. It’s that moment when you realize this is going to be more than a temporary glitch.
I guess we all have selfish moments when it’s all about us and our loss. On March 12, I had casually tuned in a spring training match-up between the New York Yankees and my world champion Washington Nationals. The game meant nothing in terms of results, but afforded an opportunity to glimpse the sport after the winter layoff and watch the players prepare for the upcoming season. It’s a rite of spring as dependable as the crocuses coming out. Gradually, I realized that I might be watching the last game that would be played before a silent spring set in. Then confirmation came from Major League Baseball’s front office, like a lightning bolt, that all baseball operations would be suspended as of 4 p.m. that afternoon. It was 3:55 p.m. when the game I was watching finished. I couldn’t help letting out a sob.
The greatest thing about the 2019 Washington Nationals was their joyfulness. The dancing, the silly shark song, the champagne and beer flying during five clubhouse celebrations, each more raucous than the last. As often happens to teams that hit the pinnacle of success, there would likely have been a “World Series hangover.” That might have undercut the hunger and intensity of their play, but would have allowed the joy to continue. Now, that feeling is only a memory. I remember hugging strangers at the ballpark watch party on the night they won it all. On the subway train afterward, there was a communal rendering of “We Are The Champions.” I wonder how much longer it will be before anyone is comfortable with hugging friends, much less strangers. Close contact and shared emotions are an essential part of the ballpark experience. There is no way for us to get our sport back until the crisis has passed.
The Nats proved you can win it all without having the most talent, or intensity, or fire in your belly. You can do it with pure love of the sport and camaraderie with your teammates. That feeling would have lingered well into the new season, even if they didn’t repeat their championship run. Now, during what should be Opening Week, I can’t help letting out another private sob. I long for the time when comparatively trivial things like baseball begin to matter again. When that happens, we’ll have overcome the disaster.