I’ve started writing this in my mind once a day for the last three weeks. Then, I hit some sort of unseen roadblock and stop. Whatever. I have nothing but time.
I missed Opening Day. That moment where winter is fully in the rear view mirror. Good riddance! Today was supposed to be the home opener at The K. Balloons, hot dogs, beer and... baseball. It would have been perfect. (We have have needed to dodge a few drops of rain, but no big deal.) Instead, it’s empty.
Without baseball, there have been a handful of pleasant diversions while we self-isolate. The bracket things are fun in their own way. (Vote for your favorite stadium here! The number eight seed, Kauffman versus the number nine seed Yankee Stadium!) Although the grumpy old man side of me really thinks a mascot bracket is a bridge too far. The replays of notable sporting events either on TV or streaming are good to watch, even if we know the outcome. The OOTP simulations are interesting.
The weekend before last, I caught most of the replay of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout performance against the Houston Astros. For me, that’s the ideal kind of game to rewatch. It’s pure dominance from start to finish packaged in a run-of-the-mill mid-May contest between a pair of division rivals. It was so... normal. I miss normal.
But I wonder where we will be in another couple of weeks time. When we’ve bracketed everything we can bracket and when we’ve exhausted our pile of interesting game replays.
Baseball doesn’t deal in the abstract. There are no shades of gray. Winners and losers. Balls and strikes. Safe or out. The bases are ninety feet. Nine innings (usually) are played. Sure the distances to the outfield walls are allowed to vary, but the ball still has to fly over the damn fence. And always before the current season ends, the schedule is released for the next one. The dates are set in stone. Absolute. You can count on them. The Winter Meetings. The All-Star Game. Opening Day. There’s always something to look forward to.
Until there isn’t.
We don’t know when the season will start, or if it will start at all. As fans and followers of this game, this is truly a unique scenario. When the dates on the calendar are suddenly open, what the hell are we supposed to do?
It’s at this point, I find myself reflecting on those most recent championship seasons. At that time, I had been writing about the Royals for 10 years (give or take) and people would ask me what I thought about the bandwagoners, or the fans who seemed to suddenly multiply as the magic number dwindled. Didn’t it bother me that these latecomers were immediately reaping the benefits when there were plenty of us around in the darkest of 100-loss seasons?
It really didn’t.
Fans are free to fan however they like. Who am I to judge? The only thing I know, is what I know. And I am certain what I took away from those moments was elevated because I had been there for the worst of days. The Buddy Bell era, The Tony Pena in the shower era, All-Star Ken Harvey, Opening Day starter Mark Redman.... I saw it all. And it sucked. It felt like there would never be a winning baseball team in Kansas City.
So when it actually happened, when the winning returned, I feel my appreciation of it was a little more acute than it would’ve been had I not been subjected to the torture that ran from 1995 to 2013. It’s always darkest before the dawn, as they say. What they don’t say is once you emerge from the darkness how beautiful the dawn can be.
And that’s how I feel at this moment. These are uncertain times. (If I had a nickel every time I heard that, I could single-handedly keep the economy afloat.) But we will get through this. We will. That is absolute. And when baseball returns, I hope to hold it just a little tighter, appreciating the fragility of the moment. I hope to embrace the community and connect and re-connect with fans. I hope to let the sounds of the yard wash over me.
We will gather at The K again. We will celebrate a Danny Duffy strikeout, a Jorge Soler blast, and a Salvador Perez Gatorade splash. And when we finally have those moments, the catharsis will be so total, so complete, that after the drag of self-isolation and quarantines and in some cases, death, we will be, in a sense, reborn. Hope will guide us and ultimately lift us up.
These have been a difficult few weeks. And it looks like the next several will be just as difficult. In the meantime, thank you for indulging me. And thank you for reading. Be safe. Be happy. And be healthy.
When all of this is over, I hope to see you at The K.