Miami, FL – We are all coping with a new reality: a life without sports. Never have I ever taken anything more for granted than baseball. Life experiences such as tragedy and personal loss sharpened my wisdom into cherishing what I’ve got and enjoying things while I still can.
Sports, baseball especially, was always there. Not just for myself but for the country as a whole. It was a permanent fixture during armed conflict, social upheaval, political discord, and national emergencies. The Great Depression, World War 2, the Kennedy Assassination, 9/11, in all these defining moments the average joe found solace in sports. Whenever anyone experienced hardship or a really bad day, the love of the game offered a comforting distraction.
But what happens when our escape, our sanctuary, abruptly disappears?
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 12, 2020
Days Gone By
Let’s turn back the clocks ever so slightly to March 8, although to many it seems like another life now. I was sitting with a small group of media members for the post-game presser, Miami just crushed Pittsburgh 14-2 for the sweep. As we waited for the players and coach Gino DiMare to arrive and give their usual opening statements, I sat there flipping through my Twitter feed.
The threat of the coronavirus was growing exponentially. Italy issued a lockdown that same day to quarantine around 16 million people in the country’s northern Lombardy region. Meanwhile, the disease spread like a brushfire here in the United States.
In a couple of days, the World Health Organization would declare COVID-19 a pandemic.
Looking up from my cushy seat, I figured to ask what the others felt. The season’s postponement looked increasingly likely. Josh White didn’t seem worried, going as far as to say that nothing was going to happen. He’s the General Manager of the student-run radio station at the university and also works for ACC Network Extra. Overall, it was a sort of wait and see cautious optimism vibe.
The weekend before I was chatting with Tyler Brain, one of FIU’s Athletic Communications Assistants, during the Pepperdine series and in his view, it was only a matter of time. The moment a case was reported in South Florida, the season was over.
After the press conference, I said my goodbyes to the university’s staff and took the elevator down. Walking out of Mark Light Field, I became very aware that this might be my last college baseball game of the year. UM squeezed off one more game against UCF before the news broke, delivering an announcement both feared and expected.
A Flurry of Suspensions
Over in the pros, Spring Training was winding down and people were talking about what the Opening Day roster will look like for the Miami Marlins. They too would get the message nobody wanted.
Following the approaching crisis since late January, it was already a question of when not if. The first, tangible red flag for me was when they declared the media would no longer have access to the clubhouse in order to protect the players. On March 12th, Major League Baseball announced the immediate cancellation of Spring Training and a two-week delay of the season.
It has since been extended.
Initially, I was not surprised, but it finally hit me when the previously scheduled “Opening Day” came and went. By then the sports world came to a grinding halt: the NHL, NBA, XFL, NASCAR, Formula 1 and the PGA Tour all suspended their operations. With all the conference tournaments called off, March Madness didn’t see a single game played.
And neither might the Marlins.
— Brendan Tobin (@Brendan_Tobin) March 26, 2020
The front office made several moves during the offseason and the organization was set to field a noticeably better team than last year. The relatively young core of players making up the starting rotation was going to turn heads, especially with Sandy Alcantara as the team’s ace. The bullpen meanwhile has a lot of depth, anchored by Drew Steckenrider, Brandon Kintzler, Ryne Stanek, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Conley to name a few.
Of the “Old faces” I wanted to see Brian Anderson’s continued development the most. He was going to be a force in the outfield with Jonathan Villar taking over duties in the hot corner. Speaking of, the revamped infield was looking really interesting, headlined by none other than Miguel Rojas at shortstop.
I was really looking forward to how the team performed at the plate. Last season the offense was one of the worst in the league with its biggest weakness being power. In the midst of the rebuild, this was going to be the year the Miami Marlins showed tangible progress. They were on their way to eventually become relevant again.
I say eventually to mean 2021 and beyond because as the Marlins improved, so did every other team in the NL East. A third-place finish in a divisional dogfight was the best they could hope for.
Now the hope is the season gets a late start, if at all.
When the league pushed back Opening Day by two weeks, I immediately shook my head. They’ll start in June if they’re lucky. A wide array of options are on the table: Doubleheaders every week, expanded rosters, having baseball go well into October and even November, playing games in neutral sites with no fans if need be, a modified playoff format that sees more teams in the postseason, the list goes on. Creativity and flexibility are the keys to the 2020 season.
Even so, another very plausible scenario can also play out: The cancellation of the 2020 campaign altogether.
It’s still surreal to me.
I believe it’s far too early to tell whether this will be a lost season but as the saying goes, “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” For a lot of folks, sports is the farthest thing from their minds and to be honest, rightfully so. This is an unprecedented time, the stuff of history books. Something we will tell future generations about. For fans and players alike, we’re coping with a new reality: A life, however temporary, without professional games.