VOICES: It took a pandemic to fall back in love with baseball

Categories:  Sports    Opinions
Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 at 10:24 AM
VOICES: It took a pandemic to fall back in love with baseball by Sam Bohen
Photo: Steshka Willems, Pexels.com

If you will, indulge me for a moment. The year is 2009. It is a crisp fall evening, a school night. The greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, is on the mound. He holds a four-run lead, normally not a situation in which Rivera (and his Metallica walk-out music) would appear; it wasn't even a save opportunity. Yet here he is, the future Hall-of-Famer, staring down the speedy centerfielder of the Phillies, Shane Victorino 

The crowd in the Bronx is ready to explode. Rivera deals his patented cut-fastball, Victorino catches enough of the pitch to send a chopping grounder to second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano, ever so smooth with the leather, handles it clean and tosses the final out of the 2009 World Series to first baseman Mark Texiera. On the radio, John Sterling cries out, “Yankees win, theeeeeee Yankees win!” And in Erie, Pennsylvania, I simply cry. 

That was how much the Yankees meant to me 11 years ago. Winning their 27th title brought me to actual tears in my living room. It was nearly midnight — well past my bedtime — yet I stood in the living room and wept all the way through the trophy presentation.  

Baseball, in my youth, was so much more to me than a sport. It was a religion. It was the national pastime. It was everything.  

I ate, drank and slept baseball. I played on three different teams in the summer, because one city-league team wasn’t enough to get my fix. I used to watch whatever game TBS would broadcast during the afternoons and watch ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” each night before I went to bed. I would stand in front of the television with my glove and a baseball, trying to mimic my favorite pitchers’ deliveries. I broke multiple windows.  

The small intricacies of baseball are what make it beautiful; the runner on first slowly inching further and further away from the bag until finally deciding to steal second. A perfectly placed bunt to get the runner over to third. But baseball stopped being beautiful and started becoming slow.  

Basketball and football are fast-paced. They have constant action; each and every play makes it difficult to take your eyes off the screen. Baseball shifted into the new “launch angle” generation, meaning that every player can hit 40-plus home runs a year, but they all only bat roughly .240. Not great. Every pitcher can touch 100, so the result of every at bat is either a strike out or a home run. The game changed, and so, too, did I. 

As I got older, the game got older too. My favorite players started to retire. I found myself staring at my phone for the duration of games. And worst of all, I had a real issue with the stoic nature of the game. Part of what I enjoy about football and basketball is that the players are allowed to have fun. In baseball, that type of emotion gets a fastball near your head. My friends didn’t watch baseball. Nobody talked about baseball in school. But did you see the dunk LeBron threw down last night? 

Soon enough, the only people it seemed that watched baseball were the octogenarians, and I certainly did not want to fall into that category, so baseball kind of faded from my life. Sure, I kept up with the Yankees by occasionally checking their record, but was I going to carve out three hours on a Wednesday night to watch them play the Orioles? No.  

Then, as if Joni Mitchell was singing to the baseball gods, a pandemic struck and sports were gone. All sports, the ones we enjoyed, the ones we didn’t bother to watch, gone from the face of the earth.  

The first couple weeks, not a problem. There’s plenty to watch and stream, and hey, maybe I would give nature a try? But then weeks turned to months. I hadn’t seen anyone dunk, tackle, throw, slide, kick or check anything. I was getting the shakes; I needed my fix.  

It started out as whispers. Like Santa Claus for little children. Maybe, just maybe, if we were all on our best behavior, sports might be able to figure out how to play. Some of the ideas were rational, like a bubble or having the players wear masks during games. Some of the ideas were simply coming out of left field (no pun intended). 

But alas, on July 23, the Yankees and the Washington Nationals took the field, and baseball was back. And I watched every single pitch. I wore my old Derek Jeter jersey and grilled hot dogs. My friends and I started a fantasy baseball league because baseball being back meant fantasy was back. We had a group thread going throughout the game; we all loved it.  

Baseball came back, and soon after, other sports did as well. Some sports I watched before the pandemic hit, like basketball. Other sports, like hockey, I did not. And the first week there were sports on every day, I watched everything possible. But soon after, the novelty began to fade and I found myself no longer watching some of the sports simply because they were on. Have you ever actually sat down to watch a soccer game? It’s actually not that entertaining.  

But baseball was different. Once again in the afternoons, I am watching whatever game is being broadcast. Once again, I have my glove on, standing in front of the television. Once again, in my house there are broken windows. Every pitch, bunt, hit and home run has captured something deep inside me. My love for the game has returned and is in full bloom. 

Who knows what the future will bring for this season. 26 teams, according to USA Today’s MLB COVID-19 tracker, have already had positive COVID-19 tests that have cost them games in this 60-game condensed season. When those outbreaks hit, there was talks of shutting down the whole season. It is uncertain if this season will make it all the way to finish line. I cannot say for sure that it will. 

But I can tell you this for certain: I haven’t missed a Yankees game yet. And they look good, like legitimate contender good. So, if we are able to make it the distance and this season gets to a World Series, don’t be surprised if you see the Yankees hoist the trophy. And if that happens, once again in my living room, there will be tears.

Sam Bohen is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: sports, voices

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