March 26th, 2020

No Opening Day … Yet

Slick-fielding shortstop Matt Piselli (right) with his much less sure-handed double-play partner.

My memories of spring have always included baseball.

I worshiped my older brother Ben — he’s still pretty great — and he loved baseball. So as the days in March shifted from cold and dark to slightly less cold and much less dark, the game he played so brilliantly with his friends pulled me in. I was hooked.

I became so obsessed with baseball that my mother recalls hearing me talk about it in lengthy, excruciating detail — our “conversations” became tedious enough that she would intermittently say “yes” or “mmm” or “wow” just to pretend she was actually listening.

(Mom, all is forgiven.)

When the warm weather truly kicked in, I played various pick-up games pretty much every day — stickball, fungo, softball, Whiffle ball, some rubber-covered indestructible ball that had the same size and weight as a baseball, but survived concrete and pavement. We made up rules since we never had full teams.

No hitting to right field. No walks. No base running — played with “imaginary” runners on base. A cleanly-fielded grounder was an out since no one played first. A ball in the trees was a home run. Over the trees was a Grand Slam, even if no one was on base.

The rectangle-shaped strike zone painted on the school brick wall would have to suffice for every player — didn’t matter if you were Jose Altuve- or Aaron Judge-sized.

Also, there was Little League, then baseball for my school teams. Take a look at that keystone combo in the photo!

Meanwhile, I read everything I could about the sport — its rich history, the great players and the teams, the remarkable games, the endless statistics. A memorable (to me) 4th grade class presentation on Ty Cobb consisted of my listing, with astonishment, his stratospheric batting averages each year:

“… .382, .419, .409, .389 … .383, .382, .384 … .389, .401!”

Now that was an exciting report. One of my classmates bluntly told me afterwards she’d never heard anything so boring in her life.

Today was supposed to be Opening Day for the 2020 baseball season.

But COVID-19 had other ideas, halting Spring Training and delaying the start of the season until who knows when.

“You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” says the wise Dr. Fauci. This version of how long we’ll be dealing with COVID-19 strikes me as much more grounded in science than Mark Cuban’s.

As a result, while usually we cue up this brilliant passage about baseball from Bart Giamatti at the end of the season, how about now?

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

“Play ball!” can’t come soon enough.

8 Responses to “No Opening Day … Yet”

  1. Eric Daar says:

    Well done but tough to read. Especially since what we really need right now is a distraction. Growing up my interest was sports and especially baseball, and definitely not school. My parents lamented that I couldn’t remember as much about American History as I could every baseball statistic. My goal was to be the next Jim Murray. We all know how that went :-(. Be safe everyone!!! Eric

  2. Richard Balogh says:

    Great read and the pic of you and Matt “Piss” Piselli is priceless of great memories

  3. Mimi Breed says:

    Thanks, Paul. I’m forwarding this to my 12 y/o grandson, who is a triple threat (second base, shortstop, pitcher’s mound) and key member of both a traveling 12U squad and last season’s city championship team in his league.

    More to the point, like you, he loves the game and is a walking encyclopedia; was just ramping up from a winter of skills practice to the competitive game phase, just got kitted out with spanking new uniform, raring to go. Then, FULL STOP.

    The family, including grandma, is equally mega-disappointed. We never have more fun as a family and with our friends as during Miles’ baseball season.

    We un-infected still have much for which to be grateful, but, man, this world disaster hits all us lucky developed-world stiffs up close and personal, doesn’t it?

  4. Gary Kiefer says:

    Loved the Dodgers since they moved to the Left coast in the 1960s. Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett on radio.Games that went on for 10 plus innings, usually won by one run after Maury wills stole 1 or more bases. Pitching rotation of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and two other guys. Baseball really is a sublime distraction and America’s game.

  5. Timothy Lane says:

    Paul,
    Giamatti’s ode has to be balanced by a touch of comedy that you appreciate and do so well. My favorite is Letterman’s somewhat macabre (what other tone would we expect) comment several years ago. “It was so cold at Fenway Park on opening day last week, that Ted Williams was able to throw out the first pitch”. As lifelong Red Sox fan, any reference to Ted Williams while living or “cryo preserved” is always gold.
    May everyone stay chill and healthy in this spring of discontent.

  6. mark eisenberg says:

    and I thought we just had imaginary runners in Baltimore

  7. Dova says:

    Loved this, Paul. For my 60th birthday, 9 months, almost to the day, before yours will arrive, my husband and son got tickets for us to Opening Day at CitiField. Sadly, our 15 yo had no school to skip, and I ended up working (from home), that day, with anticipatory mourning for a season that may never come, having waited for it, through a long fall and winter, full of yearning.

    Sending love and hoping you are safe and well,
    Dova

  8. This is fair. I have a child. I must live for many years to come.

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HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

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