Spring Training with Fans

Yesterday I talked to my dad like every Sunday. He asked me what I was making for dinner, grunted and gave a mostly-polite and fully untrue “sounds good” when I said “salmon.” I ranted about yet another lockdown that the Czech Republic is starting Monday. And he was sympathetic, I think. He also may have been reacting to a particularly touching scene in the Boston Legal episode he had playing in the background.

When I asked him what he was doing on Sunday, he said simply: “I’m watching baseball all day.” I was happy that he did not add “your honor” or “objection.”

I was fully jealous. I went to my laptop and found an article instantly whose headline read: Spring Training with Fans. A quick search produced no fewer than six articles directly and positively mentioning fans. Pirates Spring Training: Normalcy, Fans Return in Opening Win, MLB Takes small Step Towards Normalcy as Fans Return to Spring Training Games, etc. etc. etc.     

Two years ago, words like normalcy, fans, and spring training sold out would have been insane commentary for a headline. If you were transported here from 2017, you’d wonder what the hell was wrong with any writer who did so. However, after a year or so of the corona-world, we all get it.  

Baseball is not just a bunch of guys in polyester running around a field. Last spring and summer I watched a number of baseball games as part of an aggressive comfort watching regimen. A good squeeze play, an announcer calling a triple, and the Phillies’ bullpen sucking to an almost unprecedented degree did bring back some everyday normalcy. (Sadly, the low quality of the Phils’ bullpen is precedented – by them.) But it wasn’t the same. The piped in cheers, cardboard cutouts in the stands, and the quiet were all eerie rather than comforting. It reminded me of the fake half-alive feel in the movie Us. The eerie quality of “almost” that a psychopath staging a family dinner with a bunch of cabbages would have.  

I don’t need to tell anyone that the comfort and charm of baseball relies on a lot more than the field. If you’re a fan, you are probably instantly mellowed by the constant chatter of 20,000 fans, the occasional bark of a guy trying to throw off the pitcher, and the vendors’ calls for soda, beer, and peanuts. Without these things, baseball is a facsimile that is not quite right. It’s like celebrating Christmas alone.

But then “not quite right” would sum up the world in the last year. It’s been a nightmare. We have learned an entire language of the pandemic, things we never said before are now forthright in our global lexicon: Zoom, social distancing, flatten the curve. I have learned to meet friends over the computer. And aside from the brilliant benefit of being seven feet away from my bed after having six beers, it’s still weird. Then there’s Donald Trump, always doing his part to create a feeling of unease, dystopia, and abnormalcy. And being forced to watch in horror as his pathetic and sad followers stormed the Capitol Building at his behest. It’s been a hard year.

In the Czech Republic, it’s not getting any better, but literally worse. The politicians have done their best to be as inept as humanly possible. And now that they are vaccinated (with the best vaccine on the market, by the way), they don’t seem entirely concerned with getting the rest of us jabbed. Today we have entered another month-long lockdown a year after we entered our first. It’s enormously demoralizing.

Despite that, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccines are proving effective and things might soon be eking back to normal. Sure enough, we’ll soon be getting on flights and gathering at pubs, though some of us will be casting uneasy looks at anyone who dares sneeze.      

A big part of this return to normalcy is baseball with fans. At the very least, it’s a promise of things to improve. Fans at a baseball game elicit us to feel that nostalgia when we watch or listen to a game. We hear the crowd and know exactly what they are feeling, because we have also felt it. It’s like medicine. I’m not sure why it’s so important, but it is. No doubt, things will eventually go back to a normal that we can deal with. One day, the vendors will call out for hotdogs, some jerk will try to throw off a pitcher, and a stadium full of Phillies fans will beseech the heavens for a better bullpen.

I can’t wait.    

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