For Cubs and White Sox, it’s a whole renewed ballgame

The normalcy of both camps is allowing baseball fans to return to a familiar routine.

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Fans try to catch a home run hit by Corey Seager of the Rangers during a spring training game against the Cubs on March 7.

Fans try to catch a home run hit by Corey Seager of the Rangers during a spring training game against the Cubs on March 7.

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Boring isn’t always bad. Spring training for the Cubs and White Sox has been relatively boring but still pleasant. The normalcy of both camps is allowing baseball fans to return to a familiar routine — one that has been jostled in the last three seasons.

A couple of weeks ago, I did my first broadcast from an Arizona ballpark since 2019. It got me thinking . . .

In March 2020, I was in Arizona on vacation and decided to visit Joe Maddon. It was his first season managing the Angels. Joe and I had built a rapport from him being a weekly guest on my radio show, so I dropped by. I hadn’t seen him that happy or filled with hope since the beginning of the 2017 season. The visit was delightful. I got a tour of Tempe Diablo Stadium. We got to chat a bit, then I returned home.

A week later, the whole world changed.

COVID’s effect on the world still is being calculated. I wish I had the brilliance or writing chops to put it into words. I do know that along with the devastating impact it had on each of us, it also put into motion a sequence of events that left baseball spiraling.

As the virus spread in 2020, the season was put on pause. Travel was dicey at the beginning of the pandemic, so most of the Cubs’ and Sox’ personnel stayed in Arizona. Some stayed with each other. Jason Heyward told me the Cubs had closed Sloan Park, so players grabbed as much exercise equipment as they could on the way out. That way, they could stay in shape in case the season restarted.

After a contentious negotiation between the owners and the players’ union, a 60-game schedule with testing protocols was announced. Baseball fans rejoiced because our summer wasn’t completely ruined. July 27 was the new Opening Day, and baseball’s usual marathon allegory shrunk to a sprint.

The Sox were the first team to clinch a playoff spot that season. Jose Abreu won the American League MVP, and both Chicago squads reached the postseason.

Then baseball had to deal with a hangover. You could feel it. So could the players, who had been thrown completely off their routine.

The 2021 season felt like a battle of attrition. There was also the battle over vaccinations that would affect travel, especially to Canada. The Blue Jays played 38 ‘‘home’’ games in Florida while Canada stayed closed to visitors.

Last offseason, the owners locked the players out. Spring training came to a screeching halt. The sides pushed the negotiations for a long-term collective-bargaining agreement to the brink, moving Opening Day to April 7. The schedule was compressed, and vaccination status was still a hot topic.

One of the most overlooked aspects of the lockout was the silence surrounding it. Players weren’t allowed to talk with team personnel and vice versa. That meant, by rule, players weren’t able to consult with team doctors or trainers as they prepared for the season; they were left to their own devices. In most cases, it was fine. But there were other cases in which players showed up out of shape or had redesigned their bodies — to their detriment.

This spring training feels more normal, even with the exciting World Baseball Classic plunged into the middle of it. The only major news from either camp had to do with MLB’s investigation into abuse charges levied against Sox pitcher Mike Clevinger. MLB found no evidence strong enough to warrant punishing Clevinger.

So here we stand, status quo. Yes, Seiya Suzuki’s oblique injury is significant. Here’s hoping he heals in time to help what is a really interesting Cubs team. But even Suzuki’s injury falls under the realm of normal baseball operating procedure.

There’s peace in routine. And there’s comfort in getting baseball back on track. I can’t tell you whether the Cubs or Sox are any good, but I know the Tetris pieces have fallen into the right spots for the first time in three offseasons.

We are all ready for baseball, and it looks as though baseball is ready for us.

You can hear Laurence Holmes talk Chicago sports Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to
2 p.m. on 670 The Score with Dan Bernstein.

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