After a prolonged dryness, we now find ourselves awash in live sports. Yes, the presence of COVID-19 means that the whole thing is tenuous. Yes, it’s disorienting — NHL playoff games in August? Isn’t that like ice cream truck music in January?
But it’s also glorious.
We’ve gone from nothing to baseball, basketball and hockey in what feels like the blink of an eye. The virus can take it all away from us just as quickly. That can’t be emphasized too much. Actually, yes it can. I certainly have done it. Let’s put the pessimism on pause for a moment and enjoy the opportunity to watch great athletes do their thing. Did we take that for granted, pre-pandemic? The way we take oxygen for granted.
The Cubs are playing great, certainly better than most people expected. After a 1-4 start, the White Sox are showing why there was so much excitement about them before the season.
We find ourselves talking about comfortable, familiar things now, such as the Cubs’ continued inability to find a legitimate leadoff hitter. We’re having sports debates atop our virtual barstools. We’re smiling at Theo Epstein’s tactical strike on former Cubs manager Joe Maddon the other day . . . I mean Epstein’s praise for new Cubs manager David Ross.
“He has stepped in and helped address some things that have been lingering for years,” the team’s president said. “And for him to do that in the first two weeks [of the season] is really impressive.”
It was no secret that the Cubs’ front office thought the clubhouse and dugout had devolved into Club Mad, where mental mistakes were allowed to slide and defensive sloppiness was an acceptable fashion statement. One of the big questions of the offseason was whether Ross, friend to everybody everywhere, would have it in him to call out his former teammates. Question answered in the affirmative, Epstein said.
And in what I’d like to think was another howdy to Maddon, Epstein praised the Cubs’ roster.
“I’ve never given up faith in our guys,” he said. “I think we had more talent than the results would indicate the last couple of years.”
As I said, it’s good to be back talking about things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We’ve had about all we can take of the grand scheme of things.
The early part of any baseball season is always a monument to overreaction. One player is a bum because he has gone 1-for-20 since Opening Day. Another player is great, we always knew it, and his five home runs in 10 games prove us right. But this shortened 60-game season gives huge meaning to the first 10 to 20 games.
It favored someone like the enthusiastic Ross. A new manager has his team’s full attention early on. When the team succeeds in an abridged schedule, with the playoffs that much closer, his messages take on deeper meaning. It wasn’t lost on anyone that Ross let Kyle Hendricks go nine innings in an Opening Day shutout over the Brewers. That was the same Hendricks whom Maddon always had on a five- or six-inning leash.
“I love that guy,” Hendricks said of Ross after the game. “We just love playing for him. We’ve been waiting for this moment. We were excited in the spring before this all started and just the vibe and the energy he brings every day.’’
Reality is lurking, of course. The Cubs’ weekend series in St. Louis is in jeopardy because 13 members of the Cardinals’ organization have tested positive for COVID-19. There’s the unshakable feeling that anything can happen at any given moment. But we march on, happy to watch whatever is put in front of us.
We’re still talking about things in sports that would have made no sense six months ago. Masks. Bubbles. Magic City chicken wings. But it’s progress. Doesn’t the 10-part ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan seem like it ran a year ago? We were happy when the series came our way, but now that we have live sports, we realize it was just a faint substitute for the real thing. There are memories and then there are current events. We’re happy to be back in the present tense.
Are we using the athletes? Of course we are. We’re asking them not to socially distance from one another on the playing field. They are there for our entertainment, and in the same way we blissfully watch football while players’ brains are being turned into old lettuce, we watch blindly while baseball players trade germs.
It’s called escape. Some of us think that sports won’t be able to evade the pandemic, that eventually baseball will have to shut down because of the coronavirus. But for now, let’s enjoy the show.