MLB’s delayed return further proves just how much we miss baseball

Sports documentaries are all the rage right now, a benefactor of circumstance, but some of us have loved them forever. To me, there are few more delightful mixes than athletic dexterity and masterful storytelling.

The new stuff is great, but the most enjoyable viewing experience I have found these past couple of months is Ken Burns’ classic historical timepiece – Baseball. I love it for what it was when it was delicately crafted in 1994, and for what it means now.

And I’d be casting a salacious lie if I pretended that it didn’t make me that extra bit sadder that an MLB return to the diamond is not yet booked.

Major League Baseball and its players association can agree on pretty much one thing and one thing only right now; that a mutual agreement is not quite coming. The parties were way apart in their idea of a fair settlement when talks began several months ago, and they’re not especially closer now. The likely outcome seemed to be that league commissioner Rob Manfred would impose a schedule, reportedly of around 50 games, and the players will receive pro-rated salaries for that time — but that was before the commissioner openly stated he’s no longer 100% sure the 2020 MLB season will go on.

There are competing interests on both sides. Much as the fervent wish for both more sports and a resumption of things that make us feel normal again persists, an impasse was probably inevitable.

I’m not here to pretend I know how to run a billion-dollar business or have my own brainwave ideas on how to mitigate monumental losses caused by the way the coronavirus torpedoed the season. Or that I know what it is like for a player to be faced with such uncertainty and having been asked to take a sizable cut in salary.

I don’t have the answer. I wish I did. No one does, at least not yet.

What I do know is that we have perhaps never needed baseball more, and that’s the true heartbreak in all this. When a return does happen, whenever that may be, it will be welcome beyond words.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game,” said the esteemed writer and baseball lover George Will. “True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.”

We want baseball more than we realize. Think about the game’s unique parts and primary selling points and how they correlate with the bizarre place we find ourselves in as the summer of 2020 approaches: A sport that makes you feel good and brings people together. That is played often enough to be a genuine distraction right when you need one. That is timeless during a period when time is in total flux.

“I’m not feeling right, and it’s not because I’m sick,” Aron Carver, a Los Angeles musician told me. “My rhythms are off and I can’t sleep properly. Days and weeks pass by and it feels I have no way to count the time. It’s because of baseball. Ever since I was a child this time of year meant a certain thing and now I don’t have it. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way.”

Sports has such a powerful hold upon us because of how it is capable of making the human spirit feel things. Yet different sports satisfy different needs.

A NASCAR fan might be energized by the inherent danger and the way the drivers so skillfully handle all of its real and implied nuances. A UFC fan gets amped by the tempo of an event and sits in awe of the bravery and technical prowess.

WWE gives an escape from reality, soccer comes with an in-built global family and elicits tribal passions. The National Football League evokes constant drama, whipping up its supporters with passion and speed and awe-inspiring physicality.

But there aren’t a lot of sports that soothe the soul just by being themselves. Baseball does, for a number of reasons.

It beats to the rhythm of the American summer. Nothing else can offer the same consistency of presence. When it is here, it is completely here. They don’t talk about a pastime so much anymore, but it is, in its own way, a lifestyle.

“Baseball is a small part of a far larger problem in this country and the world,” wrote ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian. “It just didn’t feel right that there was no parade on the streets of Cincinnati on Opening Day, no celebration of Jackie Robinson on April 15, no pink bats on Mother’s Day, no Memorial Day festivities. There will not be games for Dad on Father’s Day.”

It is a game better suited for the internet era than many give it credit for; despite the length of the action, each outcome is largely decided by no more than a handful of game-changing highlights, strikeouts, dingers, spectacular fielding plays or boneheaded errors.

Baseball is what tells us that everything will be okay … even when everything is not normal.

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