This article appeared in The Winchester Sun on Thursday, April 9, 2020.
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball… It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” (James Earl Jones as Terrence Mann, in “Field of Dreams”)
Spring is a time of rebirth. A time to be reminded that nature is relentless in its resolve. A time when barren trees fend off their winter slough to send forth colorful blossoms and lush leaves. A time when dormant lawns and fields transform seemingly overnight from dismal brown to emerald green.
A time when peepers serenade us to sleep through open windows, catching warm evening breezes. When robins gently awaken us in the morning, their jubilant songs heralding their return.
Such is the circle of life. Just when it seems all nature is asleep, milder weather and longer days summon Mother Earth back from her winter slumber.
This is a time children and adults long for through the doldrums of winter. As the harbingers of spring arrive, we emerge from our homes to begin the sacred rites of the season.
Sunshine once again permeates the ever-growing daylight hours. Bare feet touch soft, freshly-mown grass. Neighborhood streets and sidewalks again brim with walkers and runners. Parks and schoolyards awaken to the joyous sounds of frolicking children. Restaurant patios come alive as friends gather to savor one another’s company.
Tragically, the timing of the terrible coronavirus pandemic in the northern hemisphere has conspired to ruin this year’s celebration of spring.
It’s like some cruel cosmic joke.
As with so many other parts of our lives amid this pandemic, baseball’s opening day has been postponed indefinitely. That cherished American ritual of spring will happen — if it happens at all this year — much later.
You may ask why I’m writing about a child’s game played by adults earning more in one year than virtually all the rest of us can hope to make in a lifetime. A game that has been sullied by scandals, declining interest, soaring salaries and ticket prices, the advent of “money ball,” and more.
But for my generation, baseball has always been more than a game. From my youngest days, baseball has been a constant presence in my life.
I remember playing baseball with my best friend Kenny in the lot behind my parents’ restaurant. We were about 8 years old and, as I recall, our first game was played with a found rubber ball and a broken slat from an old pallet. Later, we played with Wiffle balls and bats. Eventually, Kenny and I were teammates on our Little League team, the Pirates. (I had asked to transfer from the Reds to get to be teammates with him.)
I recall carefree summers filled with playing baseball, watching baseball, listening to it on the radio. On rainy days, we’d sit inside trading baseball cards. To this day, I believe the foundation of my friendship with Kenny was our mutual love of the game of baseball.
You know what’s magical about opening day? Like the season in which it occurs, baseball’s first day is filled with hope and renewal. When the first pitch is thrown on opening day, every team is fresh and new. Every player and fan dreams of making the World Series. Optimism abounds. Dreamers are given permission to believe.
On opening day, everyone’s in first place.
Through the years, the plight of baseball has paralleled that of America in many ways. Slow to change, both eventually recognized the right of everyone, regardless of skin color or nationality, to participate together.
Both have held to high ideals with good intentions that have seldom been fully met. Both have seen youthful exuberance and childlike innocence turn to cynical systems based on pure economics.
Both — some say — have seen their better days.
The ever-growing wealth gap in America is relentlessly sorting most of us from the tiny fraction controlling the vast bulk of the resources. Families struggling to keep their finances afloat are asked to pay soaring prices for a visit to the ballpark — most of which were at least partially financed by taxpayers. Meanwhile, players and owners continue to reap obscene profits.
And yet — there is hope, both for America and for baseball. I believe that. I must believe that.
This pandemic will change America. It will change baseball. How those changes occur remains to be seen.
Is it possible that we will be changed for the better? That we will, at last, recognize the harsh reality that our most cherished institutions are much more fragile than we imagined? That we will wake up to the fact that systems that rely on continually growing economies of scale are not sustainable?
We are at a turning point. My heart tells me that we will survive and we will change. People will see the folly of placing profits ahead of lives. The imbalance of power in our nation will be corrected.
We will demand it.
Spring will return. Baseball will return. And so will we.