Rarely do I make it to Opening Day. In fact, in all the many years I have been on this earth, I had not attended a Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day until 2015. Rather, my own personal Opening Day usually doesn’t occur until May or well into June. As I wrote a couple of years ago, I have my own special ritual:
“Ritual is my soulmate. It’s familiar. It’s restorative. Downtown approaches. The trip nearing its end, the Lytle Tunnel releases me, and for just a moment my foot goes lightly on the accelerator as I search for the notch in the ballpark—the cutout that reveals the empty seats inside. Seats waiting for their people to inhabit them. Hey, they built it. So, I come.
In the winter, Crosley Terrace grows cold. Then, it comes alive again and I await my turn. More ritual. On my first visit of the season, I always head to the medallion embedded in the concrete floor of the concourse behind home plate. I read the words:
AMERICA’S FIRST PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL TEAM
Who among us doesn’t wish this nightmare was over? The lost livelihoods. The lost lives. We’re already different now. Like September 11th, we’ll never be the same, never again to live in quite the same way going forward.
But, oh, to gather once more in that familiar cathedral, under an excellent blue canopy of sky, facing that expanse of green once more, to harken back to that less troubled time when our biggest fear was that Aristides Aquino couldn’t sustain his heroic August into the cool September innings.
And yet, I must utter this heresy: I don’t want to see baseball this season.
It’s too risky. Scratch that. It’s insanity. All the medical experts are telling us this will be going on for not just weeks, but months. Bending the curve simply means we spread out the infections so that hospitals can handle the sick. It doesn’t mean it will be over. And that curve isn’t happening all at once. It will surely happen in different places at different times as spring turns into summer.
Playing to empty ballparks won’t eliminate the risk to fans or players. And not just the players and fans. Consider all the support people that it will take to make an abbreviated season happen. I don’t want to see clubhouse people at risk. I don’t want to see the people who cover the game forced to compromise their health and the health of their families so the rest of us can hear the comforting pop of a catcher’s mitt, no matter how much we miss it.
And oh, do we miss it.
No, I want to come to Opening Day in 2021 with a clear heart. I want to know we took care of each other—that we took care of all those that bring us this great game year-after-year. Today, we’re all Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. We’re Captain Hilts, sitting in solitary, stoically fighting the monotony with a wall, a ball, and a mitt. Waiting.
To paraphrase Hilts, I haven’t seen GABP yet, from the ground or from the air, but I plan on doing both when this war is over.
And I know the first thing I will do next year when I hear that familiar turnstile click, when I am back home. I’ll place my two feet on that medallion just inside the main gate. I’ll give thanks. And when the first pitch is thrown, like you, friend, I’ll roar.