I’m trying. I really am, but I’m having a hard time. What with everything else going on in the world, it’s been tough to focus on baseball – or sports in general, really. Anyone who knows me at all will be flabbergasted by that statement, but that’s how it is right now. I mean, y’know, a fella gets older and his perspectives and priorities shift and I guess that’s what’s happening here.
As with so much else that isn’t “normal” right now, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown off the gears of MLB. First, there was the truncated spring training. Then came the announcement that the games would go on, if the owners and the Players Association could agree on a structure and format to compete. Then came the hard truth that if there were to be any games, they would take place in empty stadiums. Next came the wrangling over how many games would be played, ballpark health safety, pro-rated pay scales, service time and the like – all of which may simply be a prelude to the unspeakable: another work stoppage in 2021, upon the expiration of the latest Basic Agreement.
It was barely noticed that this abridged season had started: there was a first game of 60, but there wasn’t an Opening Day. It has taken this long to get our heads wrapped around the fact that these games actually do count and results will be put in the books. None of it seems real, as if the exhibition season had stretched itself into mid-August somehow. The games are barely registering, played on unattended fields by teams of strangers. Melky Cabrera? When did he get here? Oh, Juan Lagares is back? When did that happen? And who are all these pitchers all of a sudden? Yoenis Cespedes made an all-too-brief return, before disappearing mysteriously, yet again. We’d hardly gotten to know Marcus Stroman before he, too, removed himself over COVID concerns. It made one yearn for the fun that was 2019, if you remembered it.
Yes, there’s Pete Alonso and his goofy grin, Jim Gaffigan in baseball mufti. And there’s Jeff McNeil looking characteristically intense and eager. There goes Edwin Diaz again. And always Jacob deGrom, the carrier of all our hopes, looking fully capable of pulling off a Cy Young threepeat. These are things we can cling to, simple pleasures that keep us interested. But still…
If the Mets somehow do manage to make noise into October, will it even matter? Can a championship run be legitimized after only 60 regular season games and do the words “playoff team” have any meaning when more than half the teams in MLB will be able to call themselves that? Baseball has always prided itself on being the most difficult to reach the post-season: this year it will be like hockey. Every statistical record will come with a small army of asterisks. And of course, all this is assuming that we even get to 60 games. This flu definitely has a mind of its own and has no compunction about what plans get disrupted. I am not at all confident that the promised 60 games and following marathon playoffs will actually come to fruition. Murphy’s Law will come into play and what possibly can go wrong probably will. So right now, I give this season the side-eye. It’s hard to get excited and focus on a “pennant race” when it could all come crashing down at any moment, or even if it doesn’t, have it not be legitimate: it wouldn’t be real.
I wish I could just buy in, but I can’t.