In chaotic time, baseball a welcome respite

July 23rd, 2020

So much, as noted by excellent Washington Post baseball writer Jesse Dougherty last month, has gone wrong in the world since the Nationals' incredible Game 7 comeback against the Astros in the 2019 World Series. That incredible game was the last baseball game any of us watched that counted. It feels like so long ago, and so much has changed since then. You're a different person since that game happened, and so am I.

To see baseball return for the first time since that game, as it does Thursday night, does not change the facts of the world, or what has happened, or what is still happening. We all still have to fight our daily battles on our own. This time of national trauma is far from over, and baseball cannot fix that. Baseball is only baseball: It can only do its part.

But if you're asking me whether the world feels a little brighter when there's baseball than when there isn't, the answer is always going to be a resounding "yes."

Whatever strife might be going on at a particular moment, when you watch blow that fastball past somebody, when or drills a soaring drive in the gap, when or launches a ball deep into the New York night, all that fades away. It doesn't go away forever, or even for very long, but for that moment, when the games are going on, when baseball is doing the thing that baseball does, everything is perfect. Even if it's just for that moment.

This has been as tumultuous a period as this country has faced in decades, and that baseball has returned does not mean everything is back to normal. Baseball itself has had to overcome incredible odds just to get to this point, to get back on the field, and the work that everyone has done to pull it off -- players, on-and-off-field personnel, doctors, local officials -- isn't over just because the games have begun. That it has been as successful as it has so far speaks to relentless diligence and dedication … and they're just getting started. Baseball will serve as a distraction from the world as it is right now, but it will also serve as a constant reminder. Social distancing in the dugout, facemasks on the coaches (and some players), umpires wearing protective gloves, they all serve as regular indicators of how different this season is going to be.

And this season will of course be missing the one thing baseball has always seemed unfathomable without: Fans. The teams and stadiums are doing what they can to simulate the normal baseball experience -- pumped-in crowd noise (which actually sounds just fine, if you ask me, though it's worth noting I play a lot of MLB: The Show), regular walk-up music, scoreboard games, cardboard cutouts of people and cute dogs in the seats -- but we all know it won't be the same without the essential ingredient that is baseball fans. We'll all be watching on TV (though the door remains open for fans potentially returning late in the season). No matter what, we'll all be dreaming of being there … and when we can return again.

The baseball experience will also be a reminder of the social justice movement happening in this country as well, as we have seen players kneeling during the national anthem during exhibition games and we'll likely see more players making statements -- both literal and figurative -- as the season goes on. There are many things about watching a baseball game over the next two-plus months that will remind you that you are living in the year 2020.

But it will still be baseball, and when baseball is being played, it can never go all that wrong. As we've discovered watching exhibition and intrasquad games, the joy these players have being on the field, particularly after this delay, is infectious. Whether it's Judge giddily hitting a homer when the inning was supposed to be over, the immortal Francisco "Chico" Herrera patrolling left field at Dodger Stadium or somersaulting across home plate, these games have been fun. In an age where what is splashed across our television screens every night is anything but "fun," it is a welcome respite -- a reminder that despite the seriousness of our times, there is joy to behold.

And we haven't even talked about the structure of the season itself! Sixty games isn't what anyone would want in an ordinary season, but as a one-time experiment, it will be an absolutely riveting one. Anyone can make a run over 60 games. Can you imagine what that last weekend of the season is going to be like? We might have every single pennant chase unsettled by that final weekend. It won't be standard protocol, and it's not something I ever want to see again. (Remember the golden rule of baseball: More baseball is always better than less baseball.) But as a one-off, what a blast.

And spare me the "it's not a legitimate season" argument. You mean to tell me when you are watching the World Series, you're going to say, "Oh, this doesn't count because they didn't play enough games four months ago. This is not enjoyable at all." No way. You win the World Series this year, you've earned it. It's possible you've earned it more.

Look: This is going to be a wild ride. I don't know what's going to happen, and I'm not sure anybody does. But I do know one thing: That world is a little bit better because it now has more baseball in it. And now Opening Day is here: We made it. I dunno about you, but I'm ready to watch some baseball.