A prevailing sentiment around the possible return of baseball is its expected psychological boost for fans of the sport, and even those who otherwise did not pay much attention.
This week, ESPN started airing the KBO League just to show some baseball. What happens in South Korea will have the attention of Major League Baseball. It’s a test drive of sorts.
And showing the games proves out what we knew: People are desperate for live sports, even if they don’t know any of the names associated with them. Networks are also on the hunt for content.
Shortly after the sport stopped all activity, a triumphant return of baseball was quickly touted as a salve for a country penned in by the spread of the coronavirus. Just two weeks after halting spring training, commissioner Rob Manfred started to tout the idea.
“The one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back,” Manfred said on ESPN March 26. “Whenever it’s safe to play, we’ll be back. Our fans will be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery and healing in our country.”
Manfred was just three years into his executive career with Major League Baseball the last time baseball was in a position as a vehicle for national healing. He was the league’s Executive Vice President in 2001. Davey Martinez, meanwhile, was in the final season of his 16-year career.
Martinez was a part-time player for the Atlanta Braves. He was 36, on his way to just 259 plate appearances in 120 games, and his knees had had enough.
The Braves first restarted after the Sept. 11 attack with a series in Philadelphia on Sept. 17. The Friday of that week, Martinez was on site for what became a national moment: Mike Piazza’s eighth-inning, two-run home run to give the Mets the lead in a boisterous Shea Stadium. The Mets were on the road on Sept. 11. They were the first sports team to play in New York following the attacks.
“It was a lot of mixed feelings,” Martinez recently said of getting back to baseball. “As you all know, back then, it took us a while whenever a plane was flying in the air, you tend to look up. A lot of uncertainties.
“I think for me right now, I feel like I miss the game and whatever it’s going to take to come back and play, I’m all for it. With that being said, I think the main concern and still the big concern, is the safety and health of everybody. All participants. Players, coaches, staff, training staff, fans, everybody, you guys -- writers -- you name it. There’s a lot of different things going on. A lot of different governments opening up at different times. So, we’ll have to see.
“All I can do is wake up every day and hope we get some news we are going to start up soon, [and] I will go from there.”
When -- if -- that happens, baseball is counting on again being a way for the country to feel more normal after a tragic instance. Now, like then, questions will remain about when, and how, and risks and rewards. But, baseball expects another chance to be something everyone can lean on.
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