O’Neil: Opening Day offers much-needed sense of normalcy
I remember the exact moment I stopped thinking about a halt to sporting events due to the coronavirus in strictly theoretical terms.
It was Saturday, March 9, and afternoon was starting to bleed out into a cool spring evening. I had been in Phoenix the day before at the Mariners’ spring training facility and now I was being asked by a literary agent, “Do you think they’ll delay the baseball season?” That turned out to be the least of our nation’s worries.
I’ve thought a lot about that moment this week, knowing the baseball season was about to start. As hard as it was to imagine everything being delayed over a virus, it has been just as difficult to imagine what it’s like coming back.
Opening Day is one of my favorite days of the sports calendar. That and the first two days of the NCAA Tournament. I love fresh starts. Clean slates. But this feels different. We’re trying to get back to some semblance of normalcy or maybe it’s accepting a new normal or, hell, just trying to find whatever enjoyment we can out of a year that seems determined to torque pretty much every aspect of our existence.
I’ll be grateful to watch some baseball. I know that this is silly and certainly somewhat shallow, but I’ve found myself thinking about all of the things that I’ve missed about baseball this summer. I miss that glint of recognition in a batter’s eyes when he’s pot-committed to jumping a fastball, his knee buckling in surrender to the off-speed pitch. I miss the certainty of an outfielder settling under a fly ball or a third baseman charging in on a bunt, picking up the ball bare-handed and firing on the run to first. I miss this game with what I think are the perfect mathematical dimensions that insure that a ground ball hit into the hole between the third baseman and the shortstop will result in a bang-bang play at first base unless it’s a cadaverous base runner like Albert Pujols on the way to first.
It won’t feel normal. Opening Day and the season are starting too late, the schedule is too short and it will be strange to see even the National League teams refusing to let pitchers hit. But it will be better than nothing. Much better.
It seems almost quaint to wonder whether Mariners starter Marco Gonzalez is going to bust an Astro hitter high and tight in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal. Or to guess whether Daniel Vogelbach will get back to that big-bopping form he had the first half of last season as opposed to his struggles in the second half.
Mostly, I’ll be grateful to have at least something that feels a little familiar during a time in which everything feels so strange.