If you watch The Tenth Inning episode of Ken Burns’ Baseball, you’ll see an interview with Keith Olbermann in which he talks about a conversation he had with a firefighter after 9/11. Olbermann asked the firefighter how he was doing, and the firefighter said he was worried. To Olbermann’s surprise, the firefighter followed that with “I’m worried about the Mets. I don’t think they can come back and make the playoffs.” Olbermann was shocked that the Mets were what was on the firefighter’s mind. The firefighter said “It doesn’t matter. Of course it doesn’t matter. But for three hours a day, I can pretend it does.”
As you may be aware, the Coronavirus is now responsible for more deaths than the attacks of 9/11. But beyond that, the Corona has killed something else: joy. There is no joy in Mudville. Mighty Casey isn’t getting the chance to strike out.
Even the biggest sports fans in the world know that, ultimately, sports don’t really matter. With a few exceptions — Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali come to mind — most athletes don’t have much of an impact on the world beyond their sport. Except… they do. And we don’t realize it until it’s gone. They give us something to root for, and something to root against. They bring us so much joy, even when they bring us pain.
I’m a Yankee fan and I revel in thinking about the 2001 World Series and the 2004 ALCS. Not because I liked their outcome, but because they were FUN. They were thrilling series. So what if they didn’t end up the way I wanted? I enjoy revisiting something I cared about. And the fact that it doesn’t matter only makes it better. I enjoy a baseball game no matter who wins. It’s not like an election: people’s rights don’t depend on who wins the World Series. I’m disappointed when the Yankees don’t win, but I’m not devastated. I was in college in New England when the Red Sox beat the Yankees and broke their “curse” in 2004, and I was ridden mercilessly for the loss my team had endured. And you know what? I would give anything to have that feeling now.
There’s a line in the (otherwise mediocre) movie Fever Pitch, where Jimmy Fallon’s character says “The Red Sox never let you down… They haven’t won a World Series in a century or so. So what? They’re here. Every April, they’re here. At 1:05 or 7:05, there’s a game. And if it gets rained out, guess what? They make it up to you. Does anyone else in your life do that?”
This time, they’re not here. There will be no making up the games we’ve missed. And all of a sudden, something that isn’t supposed to matter, matters immensely. Baseball is something I’ve loved since before I can remember. And every year, it’s always been there for me. Until now. And it hurts more than I ever thought it would.
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