I always feared the Sunday before the Major League Baseball All-Star break. That Sunday is the last Yankees game before a four-day layoff. It’s the last meaningful baseball before a four-day layoff. It’s the last day of any sports before a four-day layoff. Each year I wonder how I will possibly get through the four days without a Yankees game or a baseball game or a sporting event. What would I do at 7 p.m. each night to pass the time? What do non-sports fan do every night at 7 p.m.? Those four days would always feel like an eternity, but they won’t ever again.
Nearly 12 weeks ago, I was watching the Rangers-Avalanche game in what would be a hard-fought loss for the Blueshirts as they let a much-needed point slip away in the standings (and what would also be a hard-fought losing bet for me on the Rangers’ enticing money line) when the news broke that the NBA season had been suspended. I knew the NHL would be next to suspend their season and I knew I was watching the last Rangers game for a few weeks ago, I just didn’t know how long.
That night, Opening Day was 15 days away, though the following day, after MLB had allowed spring training games to inexplicably be played, MLB also postponed the start of their seasson by at least two weeks at the time. My late-March, early-April trip to Tampa to watch the Yankees play the Rays in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the season had in turn been canceled, but I thought, maybe I will be able to reschedule the Tampa trip for the mid-May series at the Trop (spoiler: that also didn’t happen). While MLB was delaying the season by two weeks, the NCAA Tournement announced the entire Tournament would be played without fans in the stands. At the time, it seemed like the Tournament of all events would be a farce or ruined if played in empty arenas, but in hindsight, everyone would have signed up for Tournament being played at half-court playground courts if it meant the Tournament could still take place as it was canceled completely.
Here we are, nearly 12 weeks since the Rangers lost in overtime to the Avalanche and missed an opportunity to increase their playoff odds, and 12 weeks since the last time I wrote anything. The morning of that Rangers game, I wrote my weekly Wednesday spring training Spring Cleaning blog titled What’s Wrong with the Yankees? in which I once again called out the Yankees for their mishandling of injuries. The following day as I was set to write my weekly Rangers Thursday Thoughts blog, I decided to take a break from writing and podcasting until the pandemic passed. I didn’t think it would be June 1 the next time I would write something.
These nearly three months have been a grind to say the least. A grind to fill the space usually filled by sports. I didn’t want to spend my time writing nonsensical blogs about if the 1998 Yankees would beat the 2009 Yankees or what were the Top 10 games of the 2000 season. There was enough of that filler content to go around and I could care less about ranking Paul O’Neill’s career home runs in day games at Yankee Stadium. I wasn’t in the mood to write or record anything during a time when sports seemed so distant and unimportant. I spent the first few days of a sports-less world watching old Yankees games on TV and YouTube, but that habit ended around the same time the Yankees should have been starting their season on March 26 in Baltimore. The farther removed from actual hockey and spring training baseball I have gotten, the more the absence of sports in my life has become the norm. Seeing old Yankees games on TV with a packed Stadium and players hugging and high-fiving after monumental moments now feels odd to watch.
In the first few days of quarantine, July 1 became a reported target date for the return of baseball. After spending all winter and the offseason waiting for March 26, a potential Opening Day target date had been moved back another half-offseason. Back in late March, July 1 felt like years away. But now it’s June 1 and July 1 is a month away, which means another spring training would only be about two weeks away. There could be baseball in the not-so-distant-future … if the MLB owners want there to be baseball. And every report and indication to this point is that they don’t care if baseball returns or not, and the only way it will return if is the players, the ones who will be at risk during a pandemic, take a massive and unnecessary pay cut.
I want baseball back even if means empty stadiums, a weird postseason format and the possbility the Yankees could end their championship drought in a shortened season in which all non-Yankees fan will say it doesn’t count. I want it back the same way I want hockey back even if the always-intense Stanley Cup playoffs will feature empty arenas and players celebrating goals by jumping into the glass without anyone behind them banging on it and a team hoisting the Cup in a neutral-site arena in front of no one. I can’t watch anymore old games. I just can’t. I can’t watch Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, or Game 6 of the 2009 World Series or Hideki Matsui’s first Yankee Stadium game or David Cone or David Wells’ perfect game (which seem to be the only games YES has avaialble for Yankees Classics) anymore. I just can’t.
I want baseball back if it can come back safely. But in order to even get to the safety precautions needed for it to the return, the owners will first have to pay the players the prorated salaries they are owed. The NHL has already agreed to return in a 24-team format, which will include the Rangers as part of the postseason, but it seems like their restart won’t begin until the end of July at best. Baseball has the opporunity to come back much sooner with spring training games beginning in the next two weeks or so and actual regular-season games four weeks from now. The return of baseball falls completely on the owners, and because of that, I’m more than pessmistic about a single pitch being thrown this year.
I want to be wrong, however, last week was reported to be a “big week” for negotiations between the owners and players, and if anything, it seems as though the two sides are farther apart than they were the week before. So now I guess this week is “an even bigger week” for the two sides to reach an agreement to play in 2020, but I’m sure nothing will come out of it other than the owners asking the players to take another pay cut from their pay cut.
I’m back and the site is back and I will write and prepare as though there will be baseball at some point, even if that point ends up being late March in 2021. If there’s no baseball, I will just have to wait for hockey to return about two months from now. I know that feels like a long time from now, but it’s only two months. What’s another two months?
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!