When America has needed a distraction it has, for decades, turned to baseball. It was the first sport to return after the terrorist attacks of September 11, in front of more than 32,000 people in St. Louis and millions more watching at home.
Jack Buck's words helped the country begin the healing process and gave many of us strength to return to everyday life and overcome fear of large gatherings that could possibly be the next target.
Just a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance to World War II, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for guidance about whether or not the game should go on. Mr. Roosevelt responded the very next day.
The President believed baseball would be a welcome distraction for the country. It’s his words in what’s now known as the “Green Light Letter” that cemented baseball’s role as our National Pastime.
Since then Major League Baseball has been joined by the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS and a multitude of other sports to become our National Distraction … so what do American sports fans do now that we could really use a distraction from a nation-wide pandemic but the games we love aren’t there?
“None of us have ever seen anything like it,” said A.J. Cassavell, who covers the Padres for MLB.com. “The way that (coronavirus) has not only transformed the world … obviously there are more pressing issues than what’s going on in baseball … but I don’t think any of us could have envisioned seeing baseball or seeing sports shut down or delayed like this so it’s been something that I don’t think any of us would have ever thought we would have had to cover.”
For a baseball reporter to have no baseball to cover is simply odd. MLB speculation and, for fans, hope has become a 12-month-a-year industry.
“I don’t think the baseball season ever ends. It’s kind of always baseball season,” said Cassavell. “People always want to talk about it, people always want to have it there to use even if there are no games being played, to have it to discuss things and to argue and to debate.”
A.J. and the folks at MLB.com are trying to find different ways to keep Padres fans satiated until the game returns.
“We’re going to be rolling out a series going through some of the best players at each position in Padres history, different things like that that I think fans get behind just because it’s something to bring baseball back into their lives.”
What makes this even more difficult for A.J. and baseball fans across the country is there’s no set time for when the game will return. If we had a set date, say April 28, it would be easier to find ways to get to the start of the season. But with MLB simply saying Opening Day will be delayed by at least eight weeks (into the middle of May at the earliest) we’re in limbo.
And that’s just part of the problem.
We don’t know if MLB teams will get to play their full 162-game schedule, if the All-Star Game will be able to happen, if the stadiums will be available for an altered schedule … all kinds of different logistical issues that could make for some very interesting events like the Padres playing “home” games in another team’s stadium.
“We don’t know when there’s going to be a set time to say, hey, alright, let’s turn the page toward looking ahead to the 2020 season and when it might start,” said Cassavell. “But if it’s the eight weeks that have been currently recommended by the CDC and that’s what it ends up being there is some leeway to play games later into the season. I mean, this is an unprecedented situation."
"If you make some exceptions this year to move around and have teams playing in different cities, and this is all entirely speculation because we don’t have answers, these are things that could be in play because it’s not going to set a tone for the future. It’s just going to be, how do we get baseball in 2020 and how do we get rolling back to a sense of normalcy in the United States?”
It is a very difficult line to draw because while sports fans want our teams and our games back, there’s a very real understanding and acceptance that it simply cannot happen right now. That goes for the fans and the players.
The Padres were less than two weeks away from starting a season where they’re supposed to fight for a playoff spot for the first time in 15 years when their season was put on indefinite hold.
But they’re OK with it.
“I think that’s the sense you get with everything that’s going on everywhere,” said Cassavell. “It’s OK to feel upset that there’s no baseball. I’m upset that there’s no baseball. I want there to be baseball being played. At the same time you understand that baseball isn’t being played for very good reasons and baseball not being played is going to save lives. That’s the general tone we got that last day in Peoria when those guys were leaving is that, yeah, this is a real bummer that there’s no baseball but, you know what? There are bigger, more important things going on.”
Of that, there is no doubt. So when baseball does return, whenever that is, it will be cause for a celebration. Because the game will be back … but it’ll be back because the country is healthy enough to enjoy it again.