If all had gone according to plan, I would have spent a recent evening at Busch Stadium in St. Louis watching Cardinals baseball with my wife and friends.
However, as almost everyone surely knows, that game didn't take place, having been postponed or cancelled by Major League Baseball because of the coronavirus.
If the game had been played, and I would have been there, it would have marked the 72nd consecutive year that I have seen the Cardinals play in person -- a few of those years I saw Cardinals games played away from St. Louis -- Washington, Houston, Cleveland, Chicago.
I have very vivid memories of that first Cardinals game with the New York Giants -- actually, it was a Sunday double-header. My dad and I rode the train from Hoxie, Arkansas, to St. Louis in 1948. He had returned home from World War II not too long before that. We saw many exciting games over the years, featuring such Cardinals greats as Musial, Schoendienst, Pujols, Gibson, Moon, Slaughter, Marion, Brock, Boyer, Ozzie Smith, Molina -- to mention some of the more obvious examples. And I've seen some great players and teams going up against the Cardinals, including other teams I follow closely -- Orioles (a team I've seen for 51 straight years), Nationals, Rangers, Royals. It's not clear what is going to happen to the minor leagues and teams such as the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
As a season-ticket holder for Razorback baseball, the NCAA decision to cut short the college baseball season came in my 37th season-ticket year. I did, however, get to Houston for the Razorbacks in the early-season College Classic, which now seems long ago.
To the disappointment of many, college basketball was attenuated before March Madness got underway. Hockey, soccer, golf and other sports were also affected.
Our reserved seats on the finish line at Oaklawn in Hot Springs remained empty during the Arkansas Derby. Most of the racing season was run without any spectators allowed. And nearly the entire season of Razorback baseball was wiped out.
Those games and events were among thousands of cancelled or postponed sports events around the world, along with highly important school and university classes, plus entertainment, concerts, religious gatherings and much more.
"America needs baseball," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, in one of the rare non-partisan statements from the Kentucky Republican. "It's a sign of getting back to normal." MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, "Our players will be back, and we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country."
Many point to the significance of sports, especially baseball, in serving as a healing force and as an emotional bond to rally the citizenry amidst dire days.
Scott Boras, a big-bucks baseball agent, has emphasized baseball's role in times of national trauma and key moments in history: "Time and time again, baseball has helped our country heal." He and others refer to baseball's role, pointing to the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the 1989 earthquake in Northern California, the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
In looking at sports in this pandemic area, we can't overlook the reality that big-time sports are about big money. And that's part of the driving force to televise games. Although fans almost certainly won't be there in person, it appears that we may soon have televised sports events -- and that should salve the souls of some serious fans. To say, however, that it will satisfy the longings of those most dedicated fans is doubtful.
It appears likely, though much remains uncertain, that televised sports events will be back relatively soon. The hunger for sports-related television is evident from the attention given to the Michael Jordan documentary series, "The Last Dance." Baseball fans in America might do a small part for the nation by staying at home or in small groups, making a modest contribution to the national will while providing a degree of optimism and even normalcy by watching the game we love.
So, I missed seeing the games I had planned to see in St.Louis, thus putting my streak of consecutive years of Cardinals games in jeopardy. (Maybe I will have to put an asterisk on my record -- mindful of what happened to slugger Roger Maris. In 1961 Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs would not be considered broken unless it was done in a pre-expansion period when teams played 154 games rather than 162; therefore, an asterisk was attached to Maris' name when he hit 61 homers in 1961*. In 1991, a special committee voted to remove the mythical asterisk.)
But I don't intend to be crass about missing the games in this deadly serious and challenging era when we are all cheering for effective vaccines and international cooperation.
Missing out on a long-planned trip to baseball games is certainly of absolutely minimal consequence in comparison to the devastation brought by the coronavirus.
Like many others I know, these are landmarks of our lives.
I hope they will point us in a grand-slam direction.
Commentary on 05/20/2020
Print Headline: Sports have value in pandemic age