Spring would have arrived on Thursday.
Oh sure, technically the first day of spring was March 19. But baseball fans, we know better, don’t we?
Spring officially begins, and summer starts to beckon, on Opening Day of the baseball season. If it’s not the best day of the year, that’s only because Thanksgiving is impossible to beat.
The Red Sox were supposed to play the Blue Jays in Toronto Thursday (first pitch: 3:37 p.m.) as part of an Opening Day on which every team was scheduled to play.
Eduardo Rodriguez almost certainly would have been called upon to make his first Opening Day start after leading the Red Sox with 19 victories last season. Hyun-Jin Ryu, the talented lefthander over from the Dodgers, likely would have gotten the call to make his Blue Jays debut in front of the home crowd.
It would have been satisfying to see Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers again, to watch the Blue Jays and wonder whether this would be the year Vladimir Guerrero Jr. finds true stardom.
So what if the Red Sox and Blue Jays were not projected to be true contenders this season? The shameful February trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers (he would have made his LA debut Thursday against the Giants) led to clouds of indifference around the Red Sox this spring.
But on Opening Day, we would have put that aside. The rays would have broken through. Baseball would have been back, and even with last week’s lousy yet predictable news that Chris Sale needs Tommy John surgery, we would have talked ourselves into some hopeful possibilities as the season began anew.
With its March 26 first pitch, this was set to be the earliest start to a baseball season ever. Now? Now we don’t know when it will begin, but it won’t be for months. A matter of great alarm has seized our world.
The idea of Opening Day, of baseball itself, seems quaint, with the coronavirus, still in its early innings here, sending us into isolation and chaos at once. The scientists and doctors, the educated truth-tellers, they’re the ones that have our attention now, or should.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t miss baseball in this loneliness and monotony of social distancing. Personally, it’s hard to fathom that it was just three weeks ago that I was in Fort Myers, Fla., writing stories about how Alex Rodriguez believes miking up players can help save baseball, or how the admirable Dusty Baker is the perfect front-facing representative for the loathed Astros.
It’s hard to fathom that just three weeks ago, I was happily at the ballpark, hanging out with thousands of other people eager for the new season. It feels like three years ago. I miss it, and long for it again, even as the full focus must be elsewhere.
With all major sports shut down for the foreseeable future, sports-centric television networks had no choice but to resort to blasts from the past to fill the content voids.
The re-airing of classic games helps some, though the repeated airings of the Red Sox-Yankees 1978 playoff game over the weekend by MLB Network made me wonder whether a relative of Bucky Dent is on the payroll.
Baseball can’t give us what it usually does, its reliable daily entertainment from spring through fall. But it is trying to give us something, some familiar substitutes reminiscent of happier times. In lieu of the season openers Thursday, Major League Baseball will present what it is calling “Opening Day at Home” — a full schedule of 30 retro games, featuring a stirring and memorable victory by each big-league club.
These will air across digital streaming (on MLB.com) and social media. MLB explains the concept as one that is “intended to invite fans to feel a sense of community and unity on a day many were looking forward to, while underscoring the importance of staying home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.”
The selection for the Red Sox is Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Sixteen years later, it’s true: Dave Roberts’s steal will never get old.
Perhaps you’re seeking other ways and outlets for a baseball fix. On NESN, Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS with the Tigers will air at 6 p.m. The wonderful board game Strat-O-Matic is simulating the season day by day on its website. And one can never overprepare for a fantasy baseball draft, whenever it might come.
I know, none of it is the same. Not even close. Opening Day has always been more than just the start of baseball season, that official arrival of spring. Opening Day is a representative of the lovely things sure to come, a reminder that after the long winter, warmer times are ahead, better times.
This was supposed to be that happy, cathartic day. Instead, we wait, we wonder, and we worry.
There will be no baseball played in Toronto Thursday. There will be no baseball played anywhere.
But that doesn’t mean we should let it slip from our grip. Watch those old World Series videos. Play those simulated games. Get lost down a wormhole on baseball-reference.com.
These ancillary connections to baseball might help us get through this, as a reminder of what we’ve had, and what in time we will again.