To say I love baseball is an understatement. When the ultimate sport came back in late July, I was happier than a cat on a fish roast. And in August, when my hubster agreed that we should keep the trial period on MLB.TV, I grinned bigger than a butcher dog.
(Okay, so maybe my cat and dog comparison suggests I’ve watched too much of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Guilty as charged. But seriously, who can ever get enough of Uncle Jed, Grandma, Jethro and Elly Mae?)
Still, America’s pastime was back, and despite the lack of real people in the stands, I think the rebirth of baseball was a shot in the arm for sports fans across the country. I even got used to the cardboard cuts for the fans. Often the hermetic amount of noise made me forget that no fans were present!
One trivial thing I realized this season is that I consider playing time temperatures according to how fans are dressed. I found myself looking for whether they were in shorts or coats, but the doggone cardboard cuts did not even touch a jacket when the temperature dropped. (And not alerting the fashion police, but the perky Mary Hart sat behind the home plate at Dodger Stadium in the same outfit night after night!)
Despite the sadness of not being present in regular seasons, I thought it was interesting that these grown men had to go back to their baseball experiences in childhood – back to the days when they were content to play in vacant lots or the neighbor’s cube pasture. There were no jubilant crowds in the sand or backyard. Childhood baseball was often played solely for the love of the game – not for the admiration of loving fans.
I liked that reversal. It brought back an innocence that has been lost in the sparkling brilliance of star-studded lineups full of multimillionaires who may have forgotten that they started as little boys playing a fun game without getting paid.
I myself underwent a kind of conversion this shortened 2020 season. Somehow I know that there will be 162 games every regular season, that I do not see much baseball until after the season. But realizing that we only had 60 games this summer made me watch as many as possible.
This renewed interest took me back to the old paths of my childhood when I was glued to the TV while baseball was on – usually only on Saturday afternoons and Monday nights in the three-channel days before cable. My middle-aged self felt about 12 years left in 2020 when I cheered on the summer boys – albeit a shorter summer.
When the New York Yankees or Atlanta Braves finished playing every night, I would head to the West Coast (via MLB.TV) to see what these Trolley Dodgers, Angels, Padres, A’s, Giants or Mariners did. Late at night (and small hours in the morning) I pondered places with Clayton Kershaw, wondering how much Mike Yastrzemski favored Grandpa Carl, admired Mike Trout’s splendor and could not take his eyes off the fascinating Fernando Tatis Jr. .
The late nights were bad for my morning awakenings, but they were somehow good for my soul. In this pandemic-driven world where, unfortunately, so much has changed, baseball brought some normality back to life.
At first we did not know if it would happen. We had already missed Mars Madness, suffered the loss of the school’s spring sports, resorted to reorganization of sporting events where prior knowledge of the end did not provide any excitement. Even the Olympics in 2020 were postponed. And April, May and June were deprived of baseball for the first time since MLB was officially formed.
But then baseball blossomed once again – burst onto the scene in mid-summer after a 22-day rehearsal of spring training. Even COVID-19 outbursts among several teams could not dampen the lever of the bat or the ball in the ball in the catcher’s glove. These teams healthy enough to continue the game continued to hit, field, hit, slip, score.
And I kept Aaron Judge willing to knock the ball out of Yankee Stadium and laughed at Ronald Acuna Jr.’s cheerleading antics and to be thankful that Mookie Betts had swapped his red socks for Dodger blue.
It was even quite satisfying to mess with the Houston Astros in every single game they played. I refuse to pull for this team that cheated for the 2017 World Series by stealing signs through illegal use of technology.
And to think how hard I cheered on them that year, thinking that it would be a divine fate for them to win the World Series the same year they had suffered from Hurricane Harvey. Now I love the city and the people of Houston, after spending some wonderful days there in 2018, but the Astros scandal that was stolen blackened baseball in ways that can never be polished over.
Moms, do not let your babies grow up to be stealers – or rather players for any team that cheats at the expense of more deserving teams, like the Dodgers in the 2017 classic. Must the Astros ever have a star next to the names when they are hailed as world champions in 2017!
And let me cry ugly over another serious baseball injustice. While the Houston players (not including the Astros management) had absolutely no penalty for two or more seasons of driving an elaborate cheating scam to win games, Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly received a suspension of eight games (later reduced to five on appeal) for possibly throwing on the head of a Houston player.
Be aware of the use of the word “possibly”; Kelly’s pitch did not even hit the player, and the intention can not be proven. It was true that he drew a puffy face in favor of the Astros players in the excavation, which resulted in a bench clearance despite COVID-19 concerns. However, a suspension for more games for simply immature behavior is cruel and unusual punishment when dozens of players went off without a shot for a much more serious offense.
Despite this injustice, MLB’s 2020 season brought a lot of joy to those of us who love the big old game. Perhaps some retaliation came when the Astros came so close to the World Series that they could smell sausages and popcorn just before the elimination of Game Seven. And despite my heartache over the Braves’ elimination, justice may have been served when the Dodgers advanced to the World Series to get a fairer chance at a ring.
Fall Classic is upon us. May the best team win in a fair and square way! And let’s hope the days of cardboard cutting fans are behind us. May they rest in pieces!
Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com.