The other day, I was walking through a local park, vigorously waving a broom in circles and screaming at passing dogs to make way, as the WHO recommends in its latest brief.
There was a man some distance off playing Frisbee. By himself.
He had three discs. One by one, he’d throw them as hard as he could. Once done, he’d walk over to wherever they’d landed. Then he’d hurl them back the other way.
I could have stood there for an hour watching this clumsy and futile exercise. It made me wistful for Toronto Blue Jays baseball.
Well, good news – baseball has the same idea.
According to multiple reports, MLB is considering a special one-time offering of pandemic baseball.
The elevator pitch goes like this – “It’s Bull Durham meets The Great Escape, and everyone is Steve McQueen.”
All teams would report to the cluster of spring-training stadiums near Phoenix. The players would be sequestered in a COVID-free bubble. The teams would be bused in and out, playing games in front of empty stands. Hotel to stadium, stadium to hotel, hotel to stadium for up to four months.
You have to hand it to the Illuminati who run sports. The world turned snakey only a few weeks ago and they’ve already gone full Bond villain:
“Sirs, we’ll need you to cease normal operations for the foreseeable future.”
“Don’t worry about us. We have a secret Biodome built for just this eventuality.”
“I’m afraid Biodomes are non-essential.”
“Fine. Then we’ll do it on Skull Island.”
There are a few things to be worked out. Do the players’ families get put in the bubble along with them? Does anybody want to play outdoor baseball in Arizona in summer, when the ambient temperature is hotter than the surface of the sun? What happens when someone tests positive? Does the whole thing shut down?
These are insuperable problems, except when you consider the main issue – money.
The NBA and NHL were near the end of their seasons when this hit, but baseball will take the full force of a shutdown. Teams are highly incentivized to come up with any sort of plan that gets the game on TV, regardless of how wacky.
Even the messaging has turned. When the NBA closed up shop, you heard from a lot of sports types about doing whatever was required to protect the community. Now we’re starting to hear from MLB how badly that same community needs sports.
As you would expect, this plan is bringing the Voice of Reason-types out en masse.
“I don’t think a televised game without an audience and without fan reaction is a great idea,” former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent told The Associated Press. “I think it’s born of desperation. I’m a traditionalist and a bit of a romantic. I think we ought to wait until we can present the game in its best light.”
He’s right. Or he would have been right if he’d said it in February.
But it’s April. The fundamentals of Western society have changed. They’re not going to change back for a while. Now that the initial shock has abated, governments are shifting into the ‘truths no one wants to hear’ phase.
This isn’t weeks. It’s not a few months. It could be years until everything is back to the way it was. By then, we may not remember exactly what that looked like.
Some ways of doing things will either come to an end or alter completely. The top end of professional sports need not be one of them. That can continue on much as it was, with a few major tweaks.
You start thinking about what you need for sports. Not want, or are used to, but need.
Fans in attendance are not compulsory. Nor is travel. Nor is a full schedule.
All you need for sports is a field of play, a ball and a few someones to catch it. It was good enough for us in the playground and it’s good enough to televise now.
Because as tuneless as it may sound when things are so grim, we will still need romance. We will need it like air.
This may not be the romance Vincent is talking about. The smell of the grass and all that, but just seeing the game played has value. It reminds us there is a world outside the 10 square blocks many of us are now confined to.
Sports may be entertainment, but it’s not a box-at-the-opera, served-an-eight-course-meal sort. It’s not a treat for the well-to-do.
Despite the best efforts of teams to make the live experience inaccessible to average people, sports is still for everyone. As long as you have a screen, you can participate.
In an odd way, what’s being suggested is the democratizing of the game. In this new world, no one gets a better seat than anyone else.
So is it a dumb idea to build athletic forward bases in the middle of nowhere and have the players rotated in and out like USO acts to perform for our amusement?
Yes, it’s idiotic. But that’s February Me talking.
April Me is doing all sorts of things that other guy would have thought weird. Like vacuuming under the bed and baking bread. It’s going to take a bit before the two Me’s get reconciled.
In the interim, it’s worth considering formerly dumb ideas about things that don’t matter all that much. At worst, pandemic baseball is a distraction for an anxious public. At best, it’s the same thing.
As long as everyone’s willing, it pays for itself and doesn’t draw resources away from critical areas, what’s the harm?
Because while February Me would not have looked forward to watching the Jays boot the ball around an eerie, windswept dustbowl, April Me will take his fun where he can get it.
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