Welcome to Thursday. Doesn’t have the same ring as Opening Day, does it?
Today was supposed to be the start. The Nationals would be in Citi Field, where it’s sunny, the temperature is in the low 50s and two of the league’s best pitchers would be on the mound. Instead, the stadium, like 29 others, is silent. It waits along with everyone else.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred spoke Wednesday night. He said the optimistic view makes him think baseball could be revved back up at some point in May. He also entertained the idea there would be no season, calling it “tragic.”
Today is the first real dose of the sport’s hiatus. Stopping spring training, sending players home, the sudden halt of activities seemed a bit surreal. No family traditions were broken. No plans to lay out Nationals gear or tug it on for work or even drive to New York were affected yet. West Palm Beach is distant for most fans. Kids are in school, there’s no time and the team is preparing from afar.
But today was supposed to be grand. The Nationals would open the defense of Washington’s first baseball title since 1924. Flyovers, anthems, the sounds and smells. An answer at third. A look at the new bullpen. Criticizing the new lineup. Wonder if Max Scherzer remains the same. A box score to button it all up.
The rhythm would begin. Baseball’s daily dose is unrelenting. Once it starts, and the season is rolling, days of the week meld into each other. The season becomes an exercise in managing failure and dragging yourself back to it. Tomorrow always comes, even if it is unwanted. It’s a chance for a fix or to fail again, to figure out a problem or unlock a new strategy. The season is a tinkerer’s dream and nightmare taking place at the same time.
We’re without it Thursday. The spread of coronavirus has snatched our distraction. It’s sent the media industry and leagues scrambling to fill the void. Baseball chose “Opening Day at Home” as a salve. One classic winning game per team streamed on MLB.com or social media channels. MLB Network will be airing “classic” opening day games from early afternoon on, starting with Derek Jeter’s debut.
Fifteen games were supposed to start at 1:10 p.m. Scherzer versus Jacob deGrom held the pitching panache. Mookie Betts was set to make his Los Angeles debut against the rival Giants. The Astros, luckily for them, were scheduled to face the Angels at home, where they would face a native Houstonian in a new Anaheim uniform. Washington will benefit from the rest a hiatus provides. Houston will benefit from a decline in vitriol. Or at least less time for it to be directed toward those in Astros jerseys. Perspective can always temper booing.
Now-dormant stadiums are being used to help fight pandemic. Nationals Park, which wasn’t going to be put to use until April 2, sits quietly on South Capitol Street, new signage bolted to it and traffic decidedly reduced outside. The groundskeepers peeled back layers of outfield in December to prepare for April. The prepped grass now just sits, waiting for the cleats of Victor Robles and Juan Soto, as still as greater life has become.
So, we wait. Old games, memories and a longing for what’s unavailable fill the void. Manfred vowed baseball would be part of the country’s healing once it was safe to do so. He hearkened back to post-9/11 when the sport served as a unifier. There’s no timeline for when that will happen. We just know it didn’t start Thursday, which instead became another quiet installment in this growing trek.
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