An ode to the game: Baseball is back

March 11th, 2022

Baseball is back. And that is all that matters.

Getting baseball back was a long and sometimes frustrating process -- longer and more frustrating, surely, than anyone would have liked. This is not how anybody wanted to spend the beginning of March, that’s for sure. We’re supposed to spend this month watching players stretching in Arizona and Florida, checking out all the prospects with the weird numbers on their uniforms, seeing the sunshine, feeling hopeful with that sense of renewal that the return of baseball always brings. We’ve missed that.

But now baseball is back. And it’s back with a vengeance. It’s going to be compressed and wild -- honestly, the next couple of weeks are going to be nuts. Free-agent signings, trades, promotions, transactions, everything that usually takes several months to unfold will all be crammed into a fortnight. All your season previews, all your roster breakdowns, all your depth charts, they’re all going to be frantically written and fired at you faster than you’ll be able to read them. (Though please do still try.) But that’s going to be part of the fun of it. You, we, everybody, we’ve all been parched for months. If the worst thing we all have to deal with for the next two weeks is how to lap up everything out of the firehose, I, for one, will take it.

The season will start a week late, but all 162 games will be played, through doubleheaders and makeup dates. That compression will make the season feel sped up too, if not quite at the fire-hydrant pace we’re about to see. There will be some changes too: A designated hitter in the National League and an extra playoff team in each league, for example. But we’ll get used to all of those, just like we got used to the Wild Card, the divisional rounds, instant replay and all the other minor changes that seemed massive at the time, but ultimately just settled into part of the normal routine.

And that’s what baseball is, right? Baseball is normal, it’s the normal routine. There has been so little that has been normal for more than two years now. The 2020 season was truncated by COVID; the '21 season had stadiums at reduced capacity on Opening Day. But it’s of course about so much more than just baseball. Our lives have been upended, in every possible way, for two years. Baseball has been jostled like everything else. The season’s delay added to that sense. At times, you wondered if things ever could be normal again.

But that’s what baseball is, and what it can do. It gives us normal. Those trips to the ballpark with your family, munching on hot dogs, cheering a ball in the gap, doing the wave. Those warm Saturdays grilling out and listening to the game on the radio. Those fantasy drafts and fierce debates, all those hot takes with your oldest pals. Those late nights on the couch where you lazily and cozily flip from one West Coast game to another. Those eternal Octobers when history is made, when moment after moment that you’ll never forget unfolds before millions standing at rapt attention. Those relaxed, intimate moments with your children or your parents or whoever you love, whoever loves you, whoever knows you best, that the rhythms of baseball can foster in a way so little else can. Baseball is all of those things. Baseball is the normalcy of all of them.

That normalcy has returned. There will be bumps along the way, there always are. It won’t always be perfect, nothing ever is. But baseball is back, part of your normal life now. Starting on April 7, they will play it every day. There will be night games, day games, doubleheader games, All-Star Games, playoff games, World Series games. There will be grand slams, bases-clearing triples, wild comebacks, no-hitters, questionable managerial decisions and calls you just cannot believe the ump missed, even if he didn’t. There will be goofy scoreboard races, mascots goofing around and fans who get turned into memes.

And you will see some of the greatest players who have ever played the game do some of the most amazing things you’ve ever seen anybody pull off, things you wouldn’t have even thought possible. You will see Shohei Ohtani do the unprecedented. You will see Bryce Harper launch baseballs into the stratosphere. You will see Fernando Tatis Jr. make the enormously difficult game of baseball seem like the most natural, fluid, easiest thing in the world. You will see Max Scherzer on the mound (for the Mets, remember) terrifying some poor hitter. You will see Mike Trout make the game look like his personal plaything. You will see Juan Soto have the wisdom of someone who has been playing the game longer than he has been alive. You will see Mookie Betts unleash that smile that makes you want to go get a glove and run out in the sunshine right then and there.

There will be so many of these things, and they will become such a regular part of your life that they will become exactly what we need them to be -- normal. They will be extraordinary, they will blow our minds. But they will also be the daily activity, the calming, soothing, absolutely electrifying daily drama that is baseball, that is the river that flows through and around our regular lives; in the background sometimes, the center of our lives for others, but always, always there when we need it. Which is exactly what it is supposed to do.

There are so many stories to be told over the next weeks and months, and they will all be told -- we get to experience all of them. But there is only one in the end that matters. It’s why you’re here, it’s why I’m here, it’s why we get to glory in all of this: Baseball is back. Life is getting back to normal again, the best it can. Thank heavens. Play ball.