Almost a year ago to the day, I authored a post about the uncertainty of a dawning pandemic that—at the time—had postponed the start of the baseball season. Looking back at that piece of writing, it seems to have come from a different universe. One in which “zoom” was the sound kids made playing with their Hot Wheels cars, masks were strictly Halloween fare, and social distancing was primarily used for avoiding the in-laws over the holidays.
Ultimately baseball did return in 2020, albeit not until the dog days of summer. Even when that happened, the conversation often revolved as much around positive tests and super-spreader events as pennant races or web gems. Gone were trips to root, root, root for the home team, as well as opportunities for Kerouac-like road trips to opposing domiciles.
As in all other areas of life, the specter of a global health crisis loomed large. We’d go to work—but not leave the house. We’d eat out—but take it in. We’d be together—but hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Baseball too was back—but not the same. The irony of the sport’s primary objective—being safe at home—wasn’t lost on anyone.
In short, baseball was less escapism and more societal mirror in ‘20.
This past Friday, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced the first true loosening of social gathering restrictions since the pandemic began. The take-home point for Twins fans? This allows 10,000 fans—roughly a quarter of Target Field’s capacity—for games come April 8 (the home opener).
While only my personal opinion—no more, no less—of course, I am glad to see Gov. Walz allowing this to happen, for baseball and just in general. Coming back from a pandemic is tricky business, and certainly not a light switch flipped from “off” to “on”. With the vaccine rollout proceeding nicely in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, this small step in the right direction seems logical. Plus, with a year of pandemic living under their belts, Twins officials are far better prepared to institute and enforce ballpark distancing strategies than could have possibly been utilized (or even imagined) last season.
Baseball, to me, has always represented “hope” in various forms. The hope that one’s favorite squad can “make a run this year”. The hope—on a nightly basis—of seeing something spectacular or unique. The hope that winter may in fact actually end (okay, that last one may be a distinctly MN problem). Last year, such hope was but a glimmer in the distance, the sport gutted down to its basest recognizable form. In 2021, however, I once again can more honestly equate the great American pastime with a “new beginning”.
Instead of gnashing my teeth over whether games should be played at all, I’m marveling at the progress that has been made to allow for attended contests. Instead of fretting over clubhouse outbreaks, I’m now more interested in the metaphorical version of clubhouse chemistry. Instead of feeling conflicted about every move or decision—in baseball or life—I’m heartened by a pandemic finish line that, while not yet crossed, seems within sprinting distance.
I know it’s cliche, but I think there’s a reason why James Earl Jones’ speech from Field of Dreams has reached iconic status.
Baseball “reminds us of all that was good—and could be again”. That is exactly how I feel in the run-up to 2021’s first pitch. It has been since September of 2019 that I walked to the bleachers and sat in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. The first time I’m able to do that again this year? Dipped in magic waters, indeed.