Today, there was supposed to be bunting hanging across the face of dugouts.
Today, there was supposed to be the aroma of brats and burgers wafting through ballparks.
Today, there was supposed to be fresh-popped popcorn. Today, there were supposed to be vendors slinging bags of peanuts, serving up cold beer.
Today, there were supposed to be little kids in oversized hats and leather gloves looking up at their dads with utter glee as they walked into the ballpark.
Today, there was supposed to be the pop of the glove. The crack of the bat. The 6-4-3 double play. The “can of corn” to left. The “Texas Leaguer” over second basemen.
Today was supposed to be Opening Day.
Today, there were supposed to be thousands of Americans skipping work.
Well, that one is actually happening. Of course, we aren’t playing hooky to see a ballgame. It is hardly for the reasons that would make bosses furrow their brow or roll their eyes, unless, of course, there was an extra ticket for them.
March 26, 2020, like every Major League Baseball Opening Day before it, was looked upon with great anticipation. It didn’t matter how good or how bad your favorite team was. It didn’t matter that your favorite player had switched teams, that you were still trying to learn the names of the guys in your lineup. It didn’t matter that you’d never heard of your team’s manager.
It was Opening Day.
For years, one of my closest friends and I would watch each others’ anticipation for Opening Day grow from December. I would get a text: “73 days until pitchers and catchers report!”
Via e-mail, we would bet beverages on each division winner. Who would the wildcard teams be? Who was going to be each league’s MVP, rookie of the year, CY Young winner, strikeout leader, saves leader, etc. The list was extensive, and we would seriously spend two months hammering through the numbers.
We would support each others’ teams — he pulling for my Baltimore Orioles and I for his Los Angeles Angels — even when it was clear one of us was in a deep hole while the other could still sniff the playoffs.
When possible, I would fly to visit him in southern California when the Orioles made their West Coast swing. Seats in the third deck of the right field corner at Angels Stadium, where if the game was out of hand, we could still enjoy the Disneyland fireworks show.
I texted him last night. It was a video from Game 2 of the 2014 American League Divisional Series, when the Orioles’ Delmon Young hit a three-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning to push the Orioles to a 7-6 lead. It was the loudest I had ever heard Oriole Park at Camden Yards, even if through a television screen. The Orioles went on to win the series before getting swept by the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
The message in my text? “Sigh ...”
James Earl Jones made the words famous in “Field of Dreams”:
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.
“America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”
Baseball will again mark the time. As our country eventually begins the rally from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, baseball will be there.
Just as it did in the wake of 9/11, baseball will help to heal.
The grills will get fired back up. The turnstiles will once again turn. Giant foam fingers will fly off the rack, and kids will have enough cotton candy to last a lifetime.
Baseball will be there.
The question is when?