One of the great things about baseball is that it is reliable. The game is always there from February to October.
Every day your team is back on the field and there is a new mini drama that you can immerse yourself in. It's all part of a larger, ongoing narrative that spans the series, the season, and your whole life as a baseball fan. When the world brings chaos and strife, it's comforting to have the game there as a comforting distraction.
It is for this reason that the announcement that Major League Baseball has suspended spring training and delayed the start of the season comes with additional weight at such a moment.
There is no question that this is the right thing, and the move of all sports to postpone and cancel events has been widely supported. This is much larger than sports, entertainment, or industry. It is clearly an existential threat.
As we do our best to protect ourselves from the discouraging and collective danger of the COVID 19 outbreak, the safety of fans, workers and players must be of the utmost importance as we all exercise great caution to ensure that Keep infection rates as manageable as possible for as long as possible.
Toronto Blue Jays players in the team's spring training complex in Dunedin, Florida (Steve Nesius / CP)
However, entering an unexpected second off-season of unknown duration adds to the scope of the moment. Just a week ago, you could have apologized that you were concerned with the 26th place on the squad or the strategic effects of the new “three-dough rule” for pitcher. The outbreak of the corona virus was there, but somehow far enough away that we could continue to focus on the games that divert our attention from serious things.
Now that we are advised to physically create social distance between ourselves and others to suppress the spread of the virus, the value of a friendly distraction like baseball is becoming clear. As we prepare to stay at home for a few weeks, we really could have used a ball game to keep us busy, but also to keep in touch with others.
If there is one positive thing that sport continues to offer, it is the collective experience of something that we cannot control but that we connect to on an emotional level. We can all talk about the weather to pass the time, but we can make lifelong friends from strangers who cheer on the same team as us. You can create deep roots of camaraderie while looking for laundry.
Looking at cities that are becoming quieter, it is difficult not to remember the crowded streets of Toronto when the Raptors celebrated their NBA championship with a parade through the city.
In a world that is becoming increasingly disjointed and bitter and has something that binds us.
None of these sports have disappeared forever, and there are more important things we should focus on in the coming weeks. But we remember the moments after September 11th when it felt like the world was going to be incredibly quiet as we worried together about what came next. Shutting down baseball at the time emphasized the seriousness of the situation, while the game's return became part of the healing process, especially in New York City.
The problem in the present case is that our sense of normalcy was not eliminated by a sudden misfortune, but by an impending misfortune. We have no idea when the worst will happen, nor do we know when it will go away. For those of us who find comfort in baseball's consistency, it is much worse to enter this moment of undetermined length and unpredictable outcome when you know that the players have dispersed and the game is interrupted.
There are concerns that go deeper as fans have to think about the fate of the workers who will be most dramatically affected by the sudden interruption of the games. We tend to express the economic impact of things in dollars, but massive economic disruptions like this have far lower human costs. From the people who work in duty positions in the baseball stadium, to the people in the hotel industry, which depend on the traffic generated by these events, to the minor league ball players who will remain in the balance if roster decisions are not made there are many people in a multi-billion dollar industry that will get messed up or suffer while we wait for the worst.
At such a moment there is a temptation to look at the things that matter most. But as we strive to grasp the seriousness of what is to come, it is not wrong to recognize the importance that sports like baseball are given and to wish for a moment when it matters again.