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What uncertainty feels like

Trying to make sense of it all

Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

I’m sure the portion of the human population not obsessed with watching grown men play bat-and-ball games in funny pajamas is perplexed with us. Major societal institutions are shutting down, people are out of work, the stock market is crashing, and all we worry about is when Opening Day will commence. Get real, right?

In a certain sense, they’re right and we’re wrong. Much more important things than baseball are happening at the moment. I’m not here to make a plea for sympathy. But consider...

To quote celluloid pugilist Rocky Balboa:

Day-to-day life is often a struggle. Keeping food on the table and a roof over one’s head requires physical and mental anxieties that often compromise our visions or perceptions of happiness and fulfillment in life. How do we cope with this? As many different ways as there are individuals. We become workaholics, get lost in the bottle or needle, seek fulfillment through relationships, or find religion. All understandable (if not entirely safe/stable) coping mechanisms.

Some of us, however, turn to baseball (or sports in general). After a long day of giving our bodies and minds to someone else, there’s nothing better than turning the game on and being swept away by the pageantry, competition, and narrative of it all. To quote another cinematic figure:

Replace “poetry” with “baseball”, and I think that cuts pretty close to what all baseball fans are feeling at the moment. Our health, investments, and workplaces are necessary things, but often primarily as a means to do whatever it is we really want to do in life. Which in our case is experience all facets of the Great American Pastime. With Spring Training chopped down at the knees and the start of the regular season postponed indefinitely, we’ve lost one of those things we “stay alive for”.

As a native Minnesotan, each winter I endure whiteout blizzards, treacherous driving conditions, and countless mornings scraping ice off my vehicle’s glass surfaces and praying the engine will turn over when the mercury gets significantly negative. But what I tell all my friends and family is: “As long as the white stuff is gone by Opening Day, I’ll be happy”. Right now I’ve lost that, and it makes me sad. Much like Desmond Hume in season four of LOST, I’m without my Constant.

Remember that scene towards the end of “A Christmas Story”?

Ralphie’s Old Man anticipates his Christmas turkey all year long, but mere moments before it is about to be consumed, the Bumpus hounds intervene and dash his hopes: “The heavenly aroma still hung heavily in the house, but it was gone, all gone!” I couldn’t put it better myself in describing the current situation for baseball fans. The countdown app on my phone with the sole purpose of ticking down the seconds until 3:07 PM CST, March 26? Deleted. The Twins pocket schedule where I traditionally mark all wins and losses? Thrown in the trash. The final kick in the, uh, nether regions? Yesterday, the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview Edition arrived in my mailbox. Whereas I would normally dive in and read it cover-to-cover, I set it aside for now, not having the heart to tantalize myself as such.

Where do we go from here? Obviously, the answer to that question is in some aspects still very unknown. Pandemic viruses operate on their own timetables. Fortunately, the tenacity of the human spirit tends to win out in the end. The Old Man ultimately enjoys his Christmas even if it didn’t go exactly as planned. Desmond finally gets the phone call with Penny to go through and re-establish his Constant.

Eventually, baseball will return. The sport has survived one pandemic already (1918 Spanish Flu), two World Wars, as well as numerous strikes and scandals. Though we know not when that glorious moment will occur, perhaps when our sporting heroes jog out out the field and give us something to unite and cheer about again we’ll appreciate it just that much more.

Until that time comes, the best we can do is commiserate with each other on sites like this and keep the spirit of baseball alive even in its absence. It is often said that in moments of great uncertainty or despair, people rally around each other. While the very nature of the COVID-19 crisis prevents that from happening in the flesh, maybe the true power of online communities can shine through the brighter. I know I’ll still be around, and I’m sure many of you will be too.