A year ago, I wrote a piece about the presumed loss of baseball in 2020. Reading it now, it’s clear how little we knew of the weight of the year that was ahead of us. I wrote about how I turned to baseball on multiple occasions to help with my anxiety. About how, as my insomnia grew worse, I’d stay up late into the night watching the Giants or the Padres. Baseball was my escape. I could be alone in the world through baseball. When baseball was on everything was quiet.
I opened up about how baseball statistics had become a warm blanket I could wrap myself in. In a world where the rules seem to change on a dime, and life is rapidly shifting while time seems to ebb and flow between instantaneous and languid, baseball statistics gave me something to hold onto.
But there was no baseball on the day that piece published, and there wouldn’t be for four months. And even then, baseball felt like an imposter. It felt false and unimportant. I remember watching the Mets last summer, while receiving a text that another friend had passed away from Covid-19. It wasn’t the escape I knew it to be.
It wasn’t the oasis in the desert.
Opening Day has always been a mile-marker in my life. As a kid, it meant that summer nights of listening to games on the radio were just around the corner. It meant that little league and, eventually, summer league baseball was beginning too. It was the true first day of spring – the reawakening after the long cold winter.
What a long cold winter this last year has been, huh? It feels like I can count on two hands how many times I’ve left New York City. And that’s because I can. The thing I can’t count on two hands? The number of people who are no longer in my life after this past 12-month hellscape. The city I knew and loved didn’t exist for a large chunk of 2020. The City that Never Sleeps was forced into hibernation for survival. At one point, it looked like 1-in-5 New Yorkers had Covid-19. I was one of them, my wife was one of them, my co-workers, my friends… We were all becoming enveloped by this invisible, unpredictable monster that took no prisoners.
When my taste and smell went away in March of 2020, the first thought that went through my head was “what if this is it?” For those of us who made it through Covid, that has been the biggest commonality. The worst part was the existential dread. We couldn’t get tested in New York, so we had to just hope for the best, praying you didn’t have to be admitted to the hospital, because at that point your odds of coming out of there were cratering.
Nothing about this was normal. Nothing about life in New York City from March 12th to June 1st was normal. And the first time I felt that normalcy was creeping back into my life was on Opening Day.
I recently heard somewhere that, “Baseball wasn’t losing its grip on America as its pastime, but that Baseball was slipping out of the normal daily lives of Americans more and more each year.” Never has the decline of baseball made more sense to me than in that statement. Baseball wasn’t losing fans, the sport was slipping from normalcy. And yet, here I was clamoring for its return to signal the rejuvenation of life. When baseball started up again, I was far more social than I had been, and the people reaching out to me weren’t doing so to be nice: they were doing because they needed the connection to another person as well.
I needed them as much as they needed me. Baseball brought me back online. It pulled me out of my personal slump. It helped me look forward towards the hope, not backwards at the destruction.
And how fitting that I got my Covid-19 vaccine at Citi Field, home of my adopted New York Mets.
Life, from a bird’s eye view, is a lot like baseball. We take the pitches we’re given and we try to put something out there. We work to get on-base and then we work our way towards safety by taking risks in the name of progress. And then, at the very end, we return triumphantly home. Safe.
And while some games don’t go your way, and you feel like hanging up your cleats for good, you are reminded of the fact that you still have a chance to win tomorrow. There’s 162 games in this season, 102 more than the previous. If that’s not a reason to look on the bright side, then I don’t know what is.
Baseball is a lot like life, and as the 2021 MLB season begins and we all begin to see the end of the pandemic come into focus, it is not lost on me that I wouldn’t have made it safely home without the help of a lot of people. And I certainly wouldn’t have made it home without baseball.
Things will return to normal. The smell of the grass in ballparks across the country will remind us of summers past. The late August breeze will once again trick us into thinking we still have time before autumn. However, when all of this is said and done, and the doctors take off their gloves and we all emerge from our homes to feel the warmth of the sun on our awful self-induced haircuts, let’s remember the important things from this.
There are more important things in life. Namely, life itself. And that every day we have the opportunity to change everything. But don’t take my word for it, here’s a quote from Bob Feller, who once had his fastball race a motorcycle, because that’s SCIENCE.
“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” – Bob Feller, Hall of Fame Pitcher
Happy Opening Day, y’all. Let this be not only the start of an incredible season but also the start of our way back to full strength.
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