Ryan Zimmerman Among Players to opt Out of Shortened MLB Season Amid Global COVID-19 Pandemic

Fresh off of earning a World Series ring with the Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman, has said, thanks, but no thanks, to the idea of playing baseball during the 2020 MLB season of COVID-19 induced uncertainty.

In making his announcement Zimmerman said, “After a great deal of thought and given my family circumstances – three young children, including a newborn, and a mother at high risk – I have decided not to participate in the 2020 season. I cannot speak for anyone else, but given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family.”

Zimmerman’s Nats teammate, pitcher Joe Ross, also announced that he will be opting out this year.

Fresh off of earning a World Series ring with the Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman, has said, thanks, but no thanks, to the idea of playing baseball during the 2020 MLB season of COVID-19 induced uncertainty.
Photo R. Anderson

On the same day that Zimmerman and Ross, opted out, the Minnesota Twins announced that two of their coaches, Bob McClure and Bill Evers, would be excused for the 2020 season based on concerns about their health and the risks that playing baseball in the middle of a global pandemic could expose them to.

I applaud Zimmerman, Ross and the Twins for realizing that there is more at stake this year than trying to squeeze in 60 baseball game in 66 days. I have said it before, and I will say it again, the idea that the MLB is going forward with a plan to play baseball in the middle of a global health crisis is asinine.

With the number of cases of COVID-19 rising from coast to coast on a daily basis, the last thing we need is to have people traveling from place to place potentially spreading the virus.

I totally get that there are millions, if not billions, of dollars at stake if the MLB does not play ball this year. But, by them deciding to go forward with this plan they are potentially putting lives at stake just to stage a made for TV event.

Of course, with owners like Jim Crane, whose Houston Astros are literally located in one of the hottest of COVID-19 hot spots at the moment, saying that they need to sell beer and nachos to fans in order to make money, one can clearly see where the priorities sit for some people.

Nearly a third of the MLB teams are located in some of the areas that are experiencing hospital bed shortages, increased COVID-19 positivity rates, and rollbacks on business openings as they try to wrangle the COVID-19 monster that is spreading with reckless abandon like a water-soaked Gremlin.

At the time of this writing, the Toronto Blue Jays have not received permission to train and host games in their home Ballpark based on concerns of hosting 30 home games with teams from other areas that are not following the 14-day quarantine requirements for travel from the United States to Canada. In the event that games in Canada cannot be played, the Blue Jays would likely host games at their Spring Training Ballpark in Dunedin, FL.

In the event that games in Canada cannot be played, the Toronto Blue Jays would likely host games at their Spring Training Ballpark in Dunedin, FL. The Blue Jays shut down their spring training facility in early June after a player exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, demonstrating the pitfalls of trying to play ball in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

The number of Canadian officials needing to give the green light for the Blue Jays to play ball should stand as a glaring reminder that there is a lot at stake, and a lot of risk that is needing to be accepted, in order to play baseball.

The proponents of getting to go to baseball games, packing their churches full of shoulder to shoulder parishioners,  not wearing masks, and basically doing whatever they want to do, usually roll out the First Amendment of the US Constitution and tie it all together in a pretty bow of freedom of speech, religion and expression as their get out of jail free card to do whatever they want by calling it a hat trick of protections.

As a refresher for those who may have taken Government class many years ago and have forgotten the words of the First Amendment they state that, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In Journalism school, and throughout my career, I along with many of my fellow journalists, have clung to the First Amendment freedom of the press clause like Linus clung to his blanket. In fact, one year my high school newspaper staff t-shirt had the first amendment printed on the back of it to remind us of the great freedom we had.

Of course, just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should do something. As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben was fond of saying, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

As part of that responsibility, in Journalism school we were also taught that there were potential limits to free speech insofar as they interfered with the freedoms and the rights of others. In particular, we could not knowingly libel or slander someone and call it protected speech merely by waving the First Amendment in their face.

This is where the calls form elected officials, along with public health officials, for responsible social distancing and use of face coverings come in.

Sure, as a society we could kick and scream and say that it is our God given inalienable right to not social distance and not wear a mask as the rest of the world laughs at how the United States failed to contain the virus because we had too many freedoms.

But the more God like, and for that matter the more American, behavior would be to protect ourselves and others by wearing a mask. COVID-19 doesn’t care who you voted for. COVID-19 doesn’t care if you lean to the right, lean to the left, or if you stand up straight in the middle.

Without a proclamation from state or federal government officials saying that MLB cannot gather to play ball in their particular jurisdiction, they are free to do so. The question then becomes, just because they can, it doesn’t mean they should. There is also the non-uniformity related to which Ballparks can have fans, and which ones cannot.

I miss baseball, but I am perfectly content to have the 2020 Season cancelled, and wait for a return to action in the spring of 2021. One of my first stops when baseball does return next spring will be Publix Field in Lakeland, FL.
Photo R. Anderson

I am still hopeful that between now and the scheduled first pitch on July 24th, the MLB season will be cancelled. MLB could make such a bold statement by telling their fans to stay home and wear a mask, by having its players staying home and wearing masks when they go out, instead of trying to put on the farce of what will amount to a shortened A Ball season.

One of the biggest mistakes that sports fans can make, and I was certainly guilty of it at times, is to elevate the players on the field to mythical god-like levels and see them only as players, and not people. When we do this, we fail to realize that every athlete is just a person like the rest of us. Granted, a person who can throw a ball a lot harder than most of us, but still just a person.

Athletes have families, and they have pursuits beyond just playing the game. Athletes, like the rest of us are also not immune to catching COVID-19, even if they adhere to over 100 pages of MLB guidance for how to play baseball in the middle of a pandemic that has, at the time of this writing, killed over 128,000 Americans.

Ryan Zimmerman, and any other players who decide to sit out the season, know what is important, so why shouldn’t they sit out the season? Sports careers are fleeting, and the greatest trait an athlete can possess is knowing that there is a life to be lived outside of the lines.

Now if you’ll excuse me,  I am off to see what classic baseball movie the MLB Network is airing tonight.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Astros Owner, Jim Crane, Just Made One of the Most Tone-Deaf Statements Ever Uttered

As I mentioned the other day, after much soul searching, I have decided that I am done supporting the Houston Astros. I have lost all respect for them as an organization, and I really do not see them earning my respect back any time soon.

This was not an easy decision for me to reach. I have a lot of great memories of supporting the Astros, however statements like the one made by team owner Jim Crane on June 24th, only reinforce the stance that is time for me to retire my Astros fandom, just like the new owners retired poor Junction Jack as their mascot.

I really want to stop writing about the Astros, but when they throw a fast ball down the middle of the plate, I have no other choice but to knock it out of the park.

To set the stage, with Major League Baseball set to return in the middle of a global pandemic with a 60-games in 66 days mini season, and the Houston Astros already facing scorn for getting caught cheating, it is almost like Crane said to the person standing next to him at one of the golf courses that he owns, “hold my nachos, I am going to say something so absurd that they will forget about the fact that we cheated in 2017.”

In one of the most tone deaf, failing to take the temperature of the room, comments that I have ever heard, Crane was quoted by many news outlets as saying that in order to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, he wants to have fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.

Houston Astros Owner Jim Crane is eager to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, having fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.
Photo R. Anderson

Crane’s ludicrous comments also come amid the backdrop of Houston health officials warning that they’re running out of ER space because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

That means that even someone who does not have COVID-19, but needs to go to the ER because of something like a car accident, may not be able to get the lifesaving treatment that they need.

Crane’s remarks are like giving a single foam finger salute to Houston and the surrounding region by saying I want your money more than I want you to be safe.

Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” as a COVID-19 pandemic surrounds Minute Maid Park is so out of touch with reality. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the Union Station area of the Ballpark as a potential surge hospital for COVID-19 patients instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to potentially create more patients for an overtaxed health district

At 71-years-old, Dusty Baker, is the oldest manager in MLB. Baker, who also happens to manage the Astros, told the Associated Press that, “I’m a bit nervous. I’ve seen the reports in Houston how COVID’s going up so I’m going to have to really be careful.”

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” seems a bit tone deaf in light of the raging COVID-19 pandemic that surrounds Minute Main Park. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the ballpark as a potential surge hospital instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to create more patients for an overtaxed health district.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of that need to be careful involves Baker’s age which puts him in the higher risk category. But, it seems that Crane is willing to expose Baker to more people in order to make a buck.

While Crane is ready to go full speed ahead as soon as possible, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, is hitting the pause button on reopening the state amid a “massive outbreak.”

Abbott is urging all Texas residents to stay home unless they absolutely have to go somewhere to try to corral the deadly virus that is rolling through the state like floodwaters indiscriminately affecting everything in its path.

If the Governor, who was once one of the most pro reopening advocates in the country, is saying it is time to slow down and stay home, sorry Jim, going to watch a baseball game is not an essential function.

To be fair, there are likely fans who will be willing to go to games and risk their health in order to see some baseball in a Ballpark so quiet you can hear a trash can drop. But, in order to have fans buying food and tchotchkes, you need to have, ticket takers to let the fans in, security to protect the fans, concession workers to make the food, workers to sell the food, and workers to man the cash registers at the gift shops.

Oh yeah, and you need to have workers to empty the trash cans that are full of the trash generated by those fans, as well as workers to disinfect the Ballpark from top to bottom to get ready for the next game. Perhaps the players can help with the cleanup since I hear they know their way around a trash can.

It really shouldn’t be a shock that the owner of the Astros is the most vocal in wanting fans and their money to return. His entire tenure has been one big monetizing of the ballpark. Who can forget the time the view of downtown was blocked by huge billboards that would make a Minor League Ballpark manager say, “that is a step too far.” Thankfully the eyesore was relocated prior to the 2014 season.
Photo R. Anderson

Each of the people who enter the Ballpark will run the risk of getting infected, and in turn, they run the risk of infecting others when they go home. I am sorry, but no helmet full of nachos, or team shirt, is worth that amount of risk.

If I do not want players in the Ballparks due to potential risk of virus spread, I definitely do not want fans adding to the number of potential super spreaders.

Of course, as noted last week, the Sugar Land Skeeters are also looking to host about 1,700 people a game in a mini summer four-team league they are running at Constellation Field starting in early July. It is entirely possible that Crane thought that if the Skeeters can make money during a pandemic, he should be able to as well. Any fans allowed at either Skeeters or Astros games would need to be socially distanced and wearing a mask.

I totally get it; people are tired of being locked up inside. I would love to run free outside the walls of the Gigaplex, eat fried catfish on my favorite restaurant patio with a half and half tea, and act like the world is back to the way it was in the olden days of pre-March 2020.

But wishing it to be true, and going out there and acting like it is true, does not make it true.

The only thing acting like everything is fine, and there is nothing to see here does, is risk my health, and the health of those I love and care about.

And yes, it even risks the health of those I don’t care about. But, I care enough about people I don’t care about to not want to get them sick either.

Based on his comments, billionaire Crane appears to care mostly about back filling his pockets like a money vault diving Scrooge McDuck. I am used to stories of sports owners trying to fleece taxpayers to get better deals on their Ballparks. Crane used those tactics when he was negotiating for a new Spring Training site for the Astros to share with the defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23 with up to 1,700 fans allowed inside the Ballpark for each game.
Photo R. Anderson

However, one could argue that being greedy about tax breaks on a Ballpark is far less Ebenezer Scrooge, pre-visit by the three spirits, then encouraging people to risk their health to watch a game in order for the owner to make a few bucks on food and souvenir sales.

Ultimately, Crane’s desire to have fans in the Ballpark could be declared dead on arrival by local officials in Houston and Harris County, who will most likely get the final say on allowing gatherings like fans at a ballgame.

Based on previous statements made by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, I am fairly convinced that Crane’s pitch to have fans at the games will, in the words of Harry Doyle in Major League will fall, “Just a bit outside.”

Still, the fact that the statement was even made in the middle of a pandemic, and on a day that Houston reported nearly 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, which is around 1.3 times higher than it was a week ago, either demonstrates Crane has a total lack of situational awareness, or is aware and has a total lack of empathy.

COVID-19 has killed over 122,000 Americans, and even the people who recover from it may end up with long-term effects, like holes in their lungs. That is not a political statement that is a medical fact.

Sadly, uniting against a common foe for the common good, does not seem so common anymore. At least that is the case when it comes to public health and COVID-19. The simple act of wearing a face covering, or mask, to protect others has turned into a litmus test of whether you vote blue or red. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida get it. Mitt Romney gets it. Masks save lives.

Even Governor Abbott is able to show that he needs to take the virus more seriously than he once did. It is time for everyone else, regardless of political affiliation to do the same. At the end of the day COVID-19 does not care if you vote red or blue. It also isn’t going to give anyone a day pass because they are tired of being inside and want to catch a ballgame and eat some nachos.

As for the comment made by Jim Crane, perhaps he was only kidding. I hear that is the thing people say these days after making a seriously tone-deaf remark in public.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch Major League.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Houston Astros are Potential Biggest Winners in Shortened MLB Season

Well, it is finally official, after three months of tense negotiations, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will take place as a 60-game sprint, instead of a 162-game marathon.

Players are expected to resume Spring Training activities at their home Ballparks by July 1, with Opening Day of the truncated season of teams playing a mostly geographical schedule  occurring on July 24.

Baseball purists, players, owners, broadcasters, and all other interested stakeholders, are likely to debate the merits of playing the shortest season in MLB history in the middle of a global pandemic that is exploding like an uncontrolled wildfire in an oxygen rich environment.

While those debates occur, the Houston Astros can breathe easy knowing that their season of atonement tour where they were set to feel the brunt of angry fans, and fellow ballplayers on 29 other teams in response to the trash can banging cheating scandal, will only last about 37 percent as long as it would have during a full season.

With the delayed 2020 MLB season set to launch in July Jose Altuve, and the rest of the Houston Astros can breathe easy knowing that their season of atonement tour tied to the trash can banging cheating scandal, will only last about 37 percent as long as it would have during a full season.
Photo R. Anderson

Heck, the Astros don’t even have to worry about fans in the stands heckling them since the 2020 MLB season will be played in empty Ballparks.

Additionally, the players on the other 29 teams, who would have likely made it extra difficult for the Astros by enforcing a whole slew of unwritten rules of baseball between the foul poles, are likely going to have other things on their minds, like not catching a virus that has no cure and has killed over 121,000 Americans.

It is doubtful that anyone is going to want to have a bench clearing brawl in the middle of a pandemic. Although a socially distanced mound charge could make for good television as the batter tries to voice his displeasure at the pitcher from six feet away.

For those who may not be aware, or have forgotten about the Astros high crimes and misdemeanors against baseball, the MLB commissioner’s office completed an investigation at the end of the 2019 season into cheating allegations levied against the Houston Astros by a former player and whistleblower, related to games played in the 2017 season, which also happened to be the same year that the Astros won the World Series.

According to the report, the Astros used a video monitor of a camera feed from center field, and a trash can in the dugout to relay signals to batters about what pitch was coming in order to give the Astros hitters an advantage at the plate.

As Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis demonstrated in Bull Durham, when the hitter knows what is coming, the ball coming off of the bat travels so far that it ought to have a flight attendant on it. Or to use the sabermetrics lingo, “advanced knowledge creates epic launch angle, and equals the ball traveling many feet.”

The Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017. In 2019, it was revealed that some players on the team cheated that year which taints the first Championship in team history. Using a trash can to tip off the batter to what pitch is coming is less obvious than the two bats and a glove technique demonstrated by Jose Altuve during Spring Training in 2016.
Photo R. Anderson

As one might expect, the players on teams who lost to the Astros in 2017, in particular, the Dodgers and Yankees, feel cheated, because as it turns out they were cheated.

Every victory by the Astros in 2017, including the World Series title, has a stigma attached to it despite all of the protestations by Astros players that they only used the trash can banging system in the regular season, in order to win enough games to get to the playoffs, and then played fair and square after that once they were in the playoffs.

The world will never know whether the claims of postseason innocence are true or not. What is known, is that through a system of cheating that lasted for a portion of the 2017 MLB season, all members of the 2017 Astros, whether they benefited from the trash can signals or not, are forever tainted in the eyes of fans and other players.

Although the Astros are likely to face less retaliation due to the current climate where people have real things to worry about like COVID-19, and seeking social justice reform, I am not going to let them off so easily.

I will no longer root for the Houston Astros, since I do not respect the organization, nor do I feel it is worth my time, or money to support them based on the actions of players who cheated the system, and the actions of other players who remained quiet about the cheating.

In the big picture, I am sure that the $500 or so I used to spend a season on the Astros is a drop in the bucket to the team. But, if enough people like me take the same action, the team will realize that actions have consequences. That is how quickly the actions of members of an organization can affect the overall bottom line. That is why it is so critical that sports organizations instill an ethical culture and swiftly address any employees found acting unethically.

It takes years to build a reputation, and mere seconds to tarnish it. Just ask all of the MLB players who were linked to the steroids era and are on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I have always respected Dusty Baker, who at the age of 71 years old, has the herculean task of trying to rebuild the reputation of the Astros as the new team skipper. I hope he succeeds, but it will still be a few seasons before I can think about supporting the Astros again. Also, there is no guarantee that I ever will decide that the Astros are worthy of my time and money. As Robert DeNiro once told Ben Stiller, “The circle of trust is broken, Greg.”

Dusty Baker, pictured with A.J. Hinch, the man he replaced as Astros skipper, has a tall order in front of him as he looks to try to rebuild the reputation of the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

From the time I moved to Houston, I embraced the Astros and supported them through some very lean seasons.

In fact, some of my best memories of going to games at Minute Maid Park occurred during the seasons where the Astros had some of the worst records. I knew the players were trying their best, and I was there to support them win or lose.

I do not care if a team I support wins every game. If I did, I would have given up on my beloved Baltimore Orioles years ago. I mean, think about it, only one team wins the World Series each year. That doesn’t make the other 29 teams total losers, it just means one team played better than the rest, or had a few more lucky breaks fall their way. And no, a trash can dugout drum is not a lucky break, that is just cheating no matter how you try to bang it.

I want the teams I support to play hard and to play fair. That shouldn’t be too much to ask. Teams will now have 60 games to earn a spot in the playoffs and try to unseat the Washington Nationals as World Series Champions.

The Washington Nationals will start their defense of their World Series title next month.
Photo R. Anderson

I stand firm in my opinion that the 2020 season should not be played under the current cloud of COVID-19. I do not see a scenario where I will waver from that position.

But, now that a season seems inevitable, I will hope and pray that the number of people involved in putting on the made for TV season that become infected with COVID-19 is low, and that those who do catch the virus make a full recovery.

I am especially concerned for some of the older managers, like Baker, and Joe Maddon, who fall within the high-risk category, based on their ages, for needing to be extra careful about not catching the disease.

When the dust settles, and this season that everyone was so gung ho to have played is over, I really hope people will say it was worth all of the risks to player health and the overall health of baseball in general, instead of saying, why in the world did we do that?

One of the great constants in the world is that hindsight is always 20/20. So far, the year 2020 has been one for the ages, and sadly there are still six more months to go before we can put a fork in this year. There will be plenty of time for hindsight when the year is over, but the time to make good decisions to look back on is now.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to order some more face masks since the COVID-19 cases in Texas are rising faster than a 95 mile per hour brushback pitch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

It Appears that the 2020 MLB Season will Take Place After all

After months of playing a game of will they?, or won’t they?, that would even make the lead actors in an ‘80’s sitcom say, “just get together already,” it appears that there will in fact be a 2020 Major League Baseball season kicking off next month in the middle of a global pandemic.

While the length of the season has not been officially announced, according to a report in USA Today, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, is expected to announce a 60-game season that will run from late July to late September, with the players receiving their full prorated salaries based on an agreement reached when Spring Training was canceled back in March.  As part of that schedule, players would resume Spring Training at their home Ballparks at the beginning of July.

The Toronto Blue Jays shut down their spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., after a player exhibited COVID-19 symptoms.
Photo R. Anderson

The news comes as MLB training facilities from coast to coast were shut down this week to undergo deep cleaning due to outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus among players and staff who had been working out at the facilities.

One may recall that the COVID-19 virus was the very reason that Spring Training was cancelled in the first place.

The fact that the MLB is even considering kicking off a season while the virus is at even higher numbers, (based on an increase in the percentage of people testing positive, and not due to an increase in the number of people being tested), than it was at when it was deemed too dangerous to Play Ball in March is to put it kindly, tone deaf.

I am running out of creative ways to say that the 2020 MLB season should not be played. So, I will just say that the 2020 MLB season should not be played in the middle of a pandemic that has led to the deaths of over 120,000 Americans.

MLB is not alone in trying to squeeze their eyes together really hard and wish the virus away. After declaring Texas open in three gradual phases beginning in May, and seeing COVID-19 cases in the state rise up like a bottle rocket nearly every day since reopening, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, noted in a June 22 press conference that, “COVID-19 is spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas,” and that, “We must corral it.”

After declaring Texas open in three gradual phases beginning in May, and seeing COVID-19 cases in the state rise up like a bottle rocket nearly every day since reopening, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, noted in a June 22 press conference that, “COVID-19 is spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas,” and that, “We must corral it.”
Photo R. Anderson

COVID-19 was pretty well corralled in Texas before, despite not meeting the guidance set forth by the Centers for Disease control for reopening, the state started reopening in May. So now, instead of a corralled virus, state hospital districts are sending up warning flares that if the upward trend in hospitalizations continue, they will likely run out of hospital beds. For the record, Texas is home to two MLB teams who would be playing ball within this hot zone and inviting other teams to join them.

Two other COVID-19 hot spots are heating up in Florida and Arizona, which play host to three MLB teams.

If one wants to corral a hot spot one of the best ways to accomplish that is through wearing masks and socially distancing. Masks, and social distancing work. Some well-respected doctors with decades of experience working with infectious diseases used to tell us that every day from a podium in the White House before the official messaging out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue switched to open the economy up and pray the virus away.

It didn’t really work out then, and it is not really going to work for MLB either.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, I miss baseball a lot. I wish they were playing baseball. However, I do not miss baseball to the point that I need to see it played in empty ballparks in the middle of a raging pandemic just so some owners can pat themselves on the back and say, “hooray, we had a baseball season.”

In many ways, it would be easier to think of COVID-19 like a wildfire. If, heaven forbid there were wild fires encroaching on Dodger Stadium people would not say, “well, looks like a good day for a ballgame, I hear Clayton Kershaw is pitching today, as they walked over the flames racing through Chavez Ravine.”

Instead, they would say, “look at those flames, there is no way it is safe to be playing today. Let’s focus our efforts on putting the fire out, and think about playing when it is safe to do so.”

COVID-19 is not as visible as the flames of a wildfire, but it is just as deadly, and should be taken just as seriously.

In many ways, it would be easier to think of COVID-19 like a wildfire. If, heaven forbid there were wild fires encroaching on Dodger Stadium people would not say, “well, looks like a good day for a ballgame, I hear Clayton Kershaw is pitching today, as they walked over the flames racing through Chavez Ravine.”
Photo R. Anderson

To that end, the MLB players will be given a 67-page manual that gives them the dos and don’ts of what they can and cannot do when playing baseball in the middle of a pandemic in fan free Ballparks. Such tried and true techniques include, no high fives, no spitting, and staying socially distanced in the dugout.

Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun and totally worth the risk of catching a potentially fatal disease just to play baseball for the sake of playing baseball.

Of course, not all players will be part of the season this year. Players who are considered high risk can sit out the year with pay, while other players may decide to sit out the year with no pay. After all, each player has to take a look at the long term, versus the short term.

Despite the pending announcement of a season, I am still hopefully optimistic that once players report to Spring Training all parties involved will come to their senses and decide once and for all that the risks outweigh any benefits of playing ball.

Unlike the NBA plan that has all of the teams sequestered in a single location for the duration of the season, the MLB is using a regional approach where teams will travel from state to state, or as the case may be, from hot spot to hot spot rolling the dice on catching the virus as they go.

A perfect storm scenario, that I am sure no one wants to see, would be a season that got started, and then had to be cancelled before a World Series Champion could be crowned due to a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus in the fall. Of course, at this rate, there will not be a second wave of the virus in the fall, since it is highly possible that we will still be in the first wave come September and October.

So, if a very real possibility exists that a World Series Champion cannot be crowned in 2020 anyway, why even risk player’s health for a shortened season?

Dodger Stadium, and the 29 other MLB Ballparks, will likely start hosting MLB games in late July for a shortened 2020 season.
Photo R. Anderson

Just call it over, and the sides can go to their corners for the contentious labor negotiations that will follow the end of the 2021 season.

If the owners and players of MLB really wanted to do something productive this season, they could flood the airwaves, and social media channels with a message of social distancing and mask wearing.

Setting an example of respecting the virus, and doing their best to stop the spread, would be so much more important than trying to see who can be crowned champion of a shortened season that runs the risk of tainting the game of baseball for generations to come.

I am sure there are people who jumped up and down at the news that baseball would return in some form this year. I certainly do not share that joy.

It looks like there will be baseball in Mudville this year, I just hope the mighty Casey does not get struck out by the even mightier COVID-19.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to partake in one of the new hobbies I have picked up with all of the spare time I have now that I am not watching baseball games.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Sugar Land Skeeters Form A League of Their Own to Play Ball During Global COVID-19 Pandemic

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.

The idea of a four-team quick summer league sounds great on the surface. Of course, as one peels back the layers of the onion, they are reminded of the fact that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic caused by a virus with no known cure or standard treatment.

The news of the league comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas continues to rise to record numbers on a daily basis. As a result of the rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations, some businesses that had reopened, like bank lobbies, are starting to close again.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.
Photo R. Anderson

With that in mind, the team ownership noted when they announced the league that they would be working with local and state health officials to provide as safe of an environment as possible for fans, staff and players.

Among the steps being taken is following the guidelines from the state of Texas as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in regards to stadium capacity and social distancing. Players will be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week, as well as prior to their arrival in Sugar Land.

In regards to fans in attendance, the plan calls Constellation Field to allow up to 25 percent of its 7,500-seat capacity to be full for each of the planned 56 games in the season.

According to a press release from the Skeeters, there will be a total of seven games played at Constellation Field each week from the Opening Day on July 3 through the conclusion of the season on Aug. 23.  The schedule is subject to change, but single games are anticipated to be played on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and doubleheaders will be played on Saturday and Sunday.

The names for the four teams have yet to be announced. In the spirit of helpfulness might I suggest such timely names as, the Pandemics, the Social Distancers, the COIVD-19’s, and the Doc Faucis.

The four teams will be managed by Skeeters manager Pete Incaviglia, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens (along with his son Koby), and former Cleveland Indians pitcher Greg Swindell. The fourth team will be led by a manager to be named later. It should be noted that both Roger and Koby Clemens played for the Skeeters.

Former Sugar Land Skeeters player Koby Clemens will manage one of the four teams in the Skeeters Summer League alongside is father, Roger.
Photo R. Anderson

Open tryouts for the league are scheduled to take place at Constellation Field on June 24. It is expected that the teams will consist of former Major Leaguers and an assortment of professional players who’ve appeared at affiliated minor league levels as well as independent leagues.

Despite the best efforts of social distancing and testing, it is extremely likely that there will be people associated with the league who contract COVID-19. In the event that occurs, team officials have noted that the show will go on as the league takes the posture of accepting a certain level of risk in order to play baseball.

This is the magic question faced by all sports leagues, and in fact all individuals, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. How much risk is one willing to take in order to do the things that were done in the olden days of pre-March 2020?

The answer depends on the individual’s level of comfort, as well as whether the individual involved belongs to one of the identified high-risk categories of greater susceptibility to the virus.

Years ago I saw this sign at a Pensacola Pelicans game. It is unknown whether the tickets to the Sugar Land Skeeters Summer League games will include small print waiver language stating that fans in attendance assume both the risk of getting hit in the head by a foul ball, as well as assuming all risk if they contract COVID-19 at the ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

It is unknown whether the tickets to the games will include small print waiver language stating that fans in attendance assume both the risk of getting hit in the head by a foul ball, as well as assuming all risk if they contract COVID-19 at the ballpark.

I can picture the wording going something like this, “Sorry folks, you can’t sue us for getting sick. The lime green mosquito up front should have told you that.”

The Skeeters are not alone in trying to find creative uses for their Ballparks this season. According to the ALPB, the High Point Rockers, Long Island Ducks, and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs are working with several professional baseball clubs, towards finalizing a 70-game schedule of play that would begin in mid-July and wrap up at the end of September with a five-game championship series.

Other ALPB teams that are not able to host baseball games due to crowd size limitations in their regions are hosting movie and music festivals in their Ballparks as a means to generate revenue.

And of course, Major League Baseball is still trying to hammer out an agreement to play baseball without fans in attendance for the 2020 season.

Personally, I would love to see baseball at all levels sit the season out. I do not believe the short-term gains of unfurling those Opening Day banners in 2020 outweigh the long-term risks to player health, as well as overall league health.

The last thing anyone should want to do is have a short term pebble drop ripple turn in to a tsunami with unforeseen consequences down the road. One should not sell their soul for a shortened season.

And just because a Ballpark is open, it does not mean that fans need to go to it. If the movie Field of Dreams was filmed in the era of COVID-19 it is likely that the voice heard in the corn field would tell Ray Kinsella to “build it and they will come after the threat of the COVID-19 virus has been eliminated by the invention of either a vaccine or a therapeutic treatment.”

After all, those players may have been ghosts, but they were certainly in a high-risk category based on their ages. Speaking of that Iowa corn field, the New York Yankees and Chicago White White Sox are scheduled to play each other at a temporary ballpark adjacent to the field from the movie on August 13. It is unknown whether the game will be played, and if it is whether the people will be allowed to come, or if only the corn will have ears to hear the game.

Baseball, and the rest of life as we knew it in the golden days of pre 2020 will hopefully return next year. We will reach the other side, and when we do, the Ballparks will once again be full of fans and games of dizzy bat. Until then, teams and leagues will continue to seek creative solutions to “go the distance” as they navigate uncharted waters like a 21st century Lewis and Clark to ease our collective pain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about shortened summer baseball leagues has me in the mood to watch Summer Catch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

With MLB Players and Owners no Longer Negotiating it is Best to Try Again Next Year

With a little under a month to go until the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game was set to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the first pitch of the regular season has yet to take place.

Historically, the All Star Game marks the midpoint of the MLB season. This year, it is likely that any All Star Game played will take place after the conclusion of the season. Assuming that there is a season.

The blame game for why the season has yet to commence is in full swing. Players blame owners. Owners blame players. Over the weekend the MLB Player’s Association, and the MLB owners halted negotiations on what a 2020 season would look like and tossed the ball over to the Commissioner’s Office to end the stalemate. It seems like the only thing both sides can agree in is that COVID-19 is to blame.

Speaking of COVID-19, on June 16, 2020, Florida and Arizona, the regular season home of the Rays, Marlins and Diamondback, as well as the home of all 30 spring-training facilities, reported their highest single-day total of positive tests for the virus. The Sunshine State of Florida counted nearly 2,800 positive cases. The Grand Canyon State of Arizona tallied in at 2,400 new positive cases.

With a little under a month to go until the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game was set to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the first pitch of the regular season has yet to take place thanks to COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

In baseball terms, the launch angle for the COVID-19 spike in those states is headed for the upper decks and may clear the ballpark. Or, as Crash Davis, of Bull Durham fame, would say, “Man that ball got outta here in a hurry.”

In Texas, here at the gigaplex, we are also seeing daily increases in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, the number of hospitalizations, and the number of deaths.

Overall, 17 U.S. states reported weekly increases in the spread of COVID-19, as well as an increase in the percentage of people tested who are positive. If the virus was stable, the percentage of people who test positive would remain stagnant regardless of how many people were tested. Higher percentages of positives mean that more people are catching the virus, not that more people are getting tested.

But you don’t have to take my world for it, just follow the science.

The COVID-19 virus is real. It is deadly. It is not going away any time soon. And no, despite what some people try to say, the virus will not just magically disappear if we stop testing people for it. Social distancing and wearing masks are the only ways to control the spread until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed.

Still, with rising numbers from sea to shining sea, there are still rumblings that what the world needs right now is baseball. Unless baseball is code for a vaccine, or therapeutic treatment, for the COVID-19 virus, I am pretty sure the last thing the world needs right now is baseball.

As I have said many times, and in many ways, I miss baseball. I want baseball to return. I want to go see new Ballparks. I want to revisit old Ballparks. I want to eat hot dogs in the club level of Constellation Field next to a lime green mosquito mascot named Swatson.

I miss baseball, but I am perfectly content to have the 2020 Season cancelled, and wait for a return to action in the spring of 2021. One of my first stops when baseball does return next spring will be Publix Field in Lakeland, FL.
Photo R. Anderson

So, when I say sit this season out to the MLB powers that be, I am not saying it as someone who could take or leave baseball. I am saying it as someone who loves baseball but also sees little value in a regular season lasting about as long as the postseason. Proceeding with baseball at this point will likely do more harm than good for the baseball brand.

The owners will say that baseball needs to happen this year in order for people to not forget about it. The owners will also say that they need a long postseason lasting deep into October so they can make money from the television rights.

But having a 50-60 game MLB regular season, and then going to the postseason, stains the spirit of the game worse than a steroid tainted home run record chase, or a trash can banging World Series run.

It is okay to sit this one out baseball. One of the worst things that can happen is to force a season to occur and then see a majority of the big-name players sit the season out in order to protect their health.

While MLB still tries to decide if a 2020 season will occur, the NBA is set to resume their season July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. All eligible playoff teams will be kept in three hotels and will play all of their games inside the borders of Disney World.
Photo R. Anderson

Why would a player risk their health from both the COVID-19 virus, or a freak injury, for an abbreviated season at prorated pay if they have the means to sit out four months and return to Spring Training in February of next year?

Still, the MLB powers that be seem determined to proceed regardless of the consequences, or the optics. Instead of following the herd and just being another sport to try and play, while hoping their star players do not get sick, MLB has a chance to be the sport that puts safety over profit if they choose.

When I was the Sports Information Director for a college, one of my main tasks was helping coaches and athletic department personnel craft statements and stay on message. I always told the people I was working with to consider the long-term impact of their words, and to not look at short term gratification. I also told them to make sure they knew the temperature of the room. If I was tasked with advising MLB during this current climate, I would suggest they release the following statement:

“We have the best fans in the world and we want more than anything to get back to work giving you our best effort on the field and off. COVID-19 gave us all a gut punch and forced the early termination of Spring Training. As much as we want to return to the game we love, the numbers of the virus infections just do not support us playing right now. Even with all of the safety precautions we have outlined, we cannot rule out members of the MLB family getting sick. It would be irresponsible for us to risk spreading the disease by traveling from city to city just to play games in empty ballparks without you our cherished fans there to cheer us on.

The short-term desire of playing baseball in 2020 cannot cloud our vision. The long-term health and safety of our players, trainers and other team employees is far more important to us than trying to rush things in order to try to squeeze in a season this year just to say we had a 2020 season. We will return when the science tells us it is safe to do so. Until then, take care of yourselves, and our players and staff will do the same.  Stay home, stay safe. Wear a mask if you have to go out and about, and we will see you next year if it is safe to do so.”

I would then include a link on the press release to the official team masks of MLB which allow fans to show their team spirit, and keep their spit from going airborne.

Sadly, now that other professional sports have returned to action, it is likely adding to the pressure of the MLB to make this season work. Unfortunately, I think the desire to “play ball” will overcome the rationale to try again next year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to lollygag over to the kitchen and make a Ballpark inspired snack.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Looking Back at Some Historic Long Balls Tainted by the Lens of Revisionism and Hindsight

The other day I watched the 30 for 30 documentary Long Gone Summer on ESPN.  The film chronicles the 1998 battle between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs as they battled to break the Major League Baseball (MLB) single season home run record set by Roger Maris of the New York Yankees in 1961.

I always enjoy the 30 for 30 series, and this entry was no exception. As I watched the documentary, I was taken back to the excitement of the battle between McGwire and Sosa during the summer of 1998. I was also reminded of the minor role I played three years later when Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants tied the record of 70 home runs that McGwire set in 1998.

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park).  Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70.
Photo R. Anderson

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park) when the Houston Astros hosted the San Francisco Giants.

The game had originally been scheduled for September, but was moved to October after a week of games was cancelled following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70.  Bonds hit the record tying homer in the ninth inning off of Houston Astros rookie left-hander Wilfredo Rodriguez.

The home run came after Bonds was walked eight times, and hit by a pitch once in 14 prior plate appearances in the series against the Astros. After Bonds was intentionally walked, the over 40,000 fans in attendance booed Astros manager Larry Dierker. It is not every day that the home team manager is booed for walking an opponent.

Perhaps not wanting to be booed again, Dierker allowed Rodriquez to pitch to Bonds the next time he came to the plate. When the ball left Bonds’ bat, the stands erupted in cheers as that record tying homer sailed over the wall. Of course, it is not often that a home run hit by the opposing team gets such a response, but this was history in the making. Or at least it was history tying in the making.

Bonds made two curtain calls following the home run, and the world of baseball was truly united on that one evening a little under a month since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook the nation to its core.

The same thing happened when Sosa and McGwire were battling for the record in 1998. Fans of baseball put aside their team partisanship and rooted for Sosa and McGwire as individuals for the greater good of the game. This fact is even more amazing when one considers how bitter the fan bases of the Cubs and Cardinals can be to each other.

It would be nearly 10 years to the day before I saw the Giants play the Astros again after my first trip to the Ballpark. The return game occurred three years after Barry Bonds last played, and lacked the record setting buzz, and the crowds of my first trip to the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Fast forward to that 2001 October night in Houston, and fans were once again cheering for a player from a hated rival.

Bonds very well may have broken that record as well during the same game that he tied it were it not for Dierker deciding to give Bonds an intentional walk in a game that the Astros had very little chance of winning.

I recall writing at the time that the history denying intentional walk was not in the spirit of competition. Instead, by walking Bonds, Dierker was manipulating records by not allowing the at bat to proceed organically without the interference of a manager refusing to let his pitcher throw to the batter.

At the end of the 2001 season, Larry Dierker was no longer managing the Astros after another early playoff exit. I have often wondered whether his actions of committing a sin against the baseball records played a part in the decision of the team to go in a different direction.

If memory serves, at the time, Dierker called it shameful that the Astros fans had dared to cheer for Bonds the way they did. I guess he just did not understand the gravity of the moment. Or, perhaps he did, and wasn’t swayed by it.

As an aside, it should be noted that Rodriquez, the other key Astros player that night, had only appeared in two games prior to giving up the home run, and he never pitched in an MLB game again after Bonds tied the record against him.

Before going any further, it is important to acknowledge the elephant in the room. In the years since 1998 and 2001, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds have each, to varying degrees, had their career accomplishments overshadowed by whispers of how much of a role performance enhancing drugs (PED) played in their record setting achievements.

Each of the three men are currently on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, along with many other players from that era who have been tied to suspicion of PED use.

As I have noted many times before, players tied to the PED era should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. I am in the minority opinion in that issue, but I have not wavered in my resolve. The Baseball writers who elect the members of the Hall of Fame have a duty to enshrine the best players from an era. Unfortunately, some writers feel that they can act as the morality police and ban players in order to make a political statement.

This approach can ring shallow since it is entirely possible that players already in the Hall did far worse things on and off of the field than the players being punished for PED use. That is not to say that I condone PED use. I do not. Players from that era should be enshrined with an asterisk by their numbers stating that it was during the era of PED. That way, fans can decide for themselves how much that impacted a player’s ability on the field.

Time will tell whether the tide turns to allow players from the steroid era of baseball to be enshrined in Cooperstown, or if they will fall victim to voters who feel that the inclusion of tainted players would hurt more than a steroid injection in the butt.

Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron’s career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.
Photo R. Anderson

Personally, I would much rather see a player in the Hall, who may or may not have used PEDs, than a player who was tipped off on every pitch by a tell-tale trash can. Talk about a performance enhancer.

In addition to breaking the single season home run record with 72, Bonds also broke the career home run record with 756. Both records have detractors who question their validity. However, both records will stand until another player breaks them.

While I did not get to see history made, getting to see history tied while visiting only my second Major League Ballpark at the time was a pretty cool way to spend an October night.

With the hindsight of the nearly 20 years since that October 2001 night, I have often wondered whether the experience is tainted at all by the accusations against Bond that followed. Given the chance to be there again for that night, I would do it all over again and would probably have cheered even louder.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Sacrifice of D-Day Still Resonates 76 Years Later

June 6 marked the 76th Anniversary of D-Day, which is the name given to the World War II battle involving over 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landing on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region in one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history.

With all that is going on in the world today, it can be easy to forget about things that happened so long ago. However, it is during times like these that the need to remember, and learn from history, is even more important. History does not happen in a vacuum, and failing to learn from it can lead to serious consequences.

On June 6, 1944 Allied forces invaded the beaches of Normandy in what would become known as D-Day.
Photo R. Anderson

Led by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, D-Day consisted of the Allied forces storming beaches at Normandy code named Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah and Omaha.

The storming of the beaches was met by German machine gunners and artillery who tried to hold back the invasion force. The German forces almost succeeded at Omaha, costing the Allies more than two thousand casualties in the opening hours of the battle.

For an idea of just how gruesome this type of frontal beach assault is, one need only watch the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. It is easy to forget in this era of drone attacks and smart bombs, that war was once much more hand to hand, leading to much higher casualty rates among its participants.

In total, the Battle of Normandy lasted from June 1944 to August 1944 resulting in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. The battle has been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.

Allied troops used boats like this one at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on D-Day.
Photo R. Anderson

During the D-Day invasion, all scheduled Major League Baseball games were canceled marking only the second time in MLB history that games were cancelled league wide.

The first cancellation of MLB games happened on the day U.S. president Warren Harding died in 1923.

The third time was when Commissioner Bud Selig stopped play for six days from Sept. 11-16, 2001, following the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Although the start of the 2020 MLB season has been delayed by two months and counting, technically the games have not been cancelled, and are merely postponed.

Two future MLB Hall of Famers, Yogi Berra and Leon Day, participated in D-Day. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 35 Hall of Fame members, including Ted Williams, and more than 500 MLB players served in World War II.

Unfortunately, the time to thank a World War II veteran in person for the sacrifices they made on those beaches over 70 years ago is vanishing rapidly.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 389,292 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2019. The United States Veteran’s Administration estimates that a World War II veteran dies around every two minutes. With each death of a WWII vet a piece of history is lost.

The COVID-19 virus effects the elderly at a disproportionate rate, meaning that the loss of WWII veterans could be sped up. Thankfully, there are stories of WWII vets who have made full recoveries from COVID-19 proving that they really are members of the “Greatest Generation.”

Unfortunately, even the greatest generation cannot win the battle against time over the long run. By the year 2036, the VA estimates, there will no longer be any living World War II veterans. For comparison purposes, the last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died in February 2011.

When Uncle Sam called them, Members of the Greatest Generation answered. Unfortunately, even the greatest generation cannot win the battle against time over the long run. By the year 2036, the VA estimates, there will no longer be any living World War II veterans.
Photo R. Anderson

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the stories of the veterans of WWII have been captured to ensure that they can be told long after the men and women who fought to free the world from tyranny are no longer with us.

It is likely, and hopeful, that the world will not see another war of the scale of World War II. While there will always be a need for a certain number of boots on the ground, advancements in technology have greatly reduced the number of boots required to conduct modern warfare.

But while the number of soldiers needed to protect freedom will continue to decline in the coming years, that does not minimize the level of sacrifice made by each of the soldiers who wear the uniform.

The example of D-Day shows us what happens when men and women from all walks of life unite against a common foe in order to seek an outcome that improves life for everyone. Every inch of sand that was captured on the beaches of Normandy involved a sacrifice the likes of which the world will hopefully never see again.

But, when they were asked to make that sacrifice, the soldiers on the front lines charged ahead for the greater good. That united we stand, and divided we fall outlook on life can be hard to see at times, but it is in the DNA of each and every one of us.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the stories of the veterans of WWII have been captured to ensure that they can be told long after the men and women who fought to free the world from tyranny are no longer with us.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, many images on the news the last few weeks have shown both unity for a cause, as well as armed resistance against the cause.

Television screens have been full of images of protests for social justice, and law enforcement entities clashing in cities across America. Now more than ever it is important to cling to the ideals of finding common ground and working together versus battling against each other.

So, take some time before the start of the hustle and bustle of the weekend to remember the sacrifice made on D-Day that helped maintain freedom, and reflect on the high cost of freedom paid by each generation that has gone before.

And by all means if you happen to see a World War II veteran, or any other veteran for that matter, be sure to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.

And, wear a mask when you see them as a show of respect for that sacrifice when you are out and about. The veterans of World War II are already dying at a rapid rate, the last thing any of us should want to do is hasten their demise by infecting them with COVID-19.  Storming a beach when people are shooting at you is difficult. Wearing a mask to honor the people who charged when the bullets were flying is a very simple thing to do.

Honor their sacrifice by honoring them and protecting them. They showed they would do the same for each of us when they secured our freedom one inch of sand at a time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a museum visit to plan.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Baseball is Still Trying to Save Season as Other Sports Hit Cruise Control

As Major League Baseball’s owners and players continue to haggle over the parameters of what a 2020 season would look like in terms of number of games played and percentage of compensation, NASCAR and IndyCar are up and running, and the NBA is about to be up and running.

NASCAR which became the first major professional sports league to return to action last month, is set to hit another milestone on June 14 when it allows some fans into the track to see the action in person. Welcoming of fans into the facility comes with restrictions, and is also occurring during a time when nearly half of the states in the United States are seeing the number of cases of COVID-19 go up. It is also occurring as other states are being questioned about whether they are providing an accurate count of the total number of COVID-19 cases within their communities.

Make no mistake, these are truly uncharted waters, and the entire process is just one big wave away from capsizing faster than the ship in The Poseidon Adventure. Still, for many it is full steam ahead, into the great wide open.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26. While the main issues preventing the MLB from playing ball seem to be mostly financial, not all of the players are being affected the same way.

Established MLB players, and recently drafted Minor League Baseball (MiLB) players, can easily sit out the season if it comes down to it since for the most part their jobs are safe.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26.
Photo R. Anderson

For other players, a lost season could cost them their last chance to make it onto a Big-League roster and leave the long bus rides of MiLB behind.

I have been thinking a lot about those players in both affiliated and independent baseball lately. As I have noted several times before, I cut my Ballpark teeth by mostly watching Southern League baseball when I was growing up. In recent years, despite being located closer to an MLB Ballpark, than an Independent League Ballpark, I have found myself driving the extra 20 minutes and spending more time watching the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPA) than the Houston Astros.

Nothing says Ballpark fun quite like a mascot adjacent box seat near the dugout. Isn’t that right Swatson?
Photo R. Anderson

For me, Minor League Baseball is a purer form of the game and allows me to be closer to the field for the same price as a nosebleed ticket at an MLB Ballpark. With Minor League Ballparks being about a third of the size of their Major League counterparts, one can really get up close and personal to the action.

Unfortunately, those Minor League players that I enjoy watching the most are the ones who are finding uncertain futures, as well as uneasy presents. To their credit many MLB teams and players have offered to pay the salaries of the players in their farm systems. However, with efforts to reduce the number of MiLB teams, as well as reducing the number of players drafted, in the coming years, there will be far fewer people who will get to chase their dreams of making it to the Show.

Of course, less affiliated Minor League baseball should mean an uptick in players wanting to play Independent League baseball which may lead to the rise of new leagues and teams to fill the void left behind following any contraction of affiliated baseball.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who was a star pitcher on the school baseball team. The team made it to the state playoffs my junior year. The following year, it was not uncommon to see various pro scouts in the stands.

My friend was a southpaw pitcher, which was then, and continues to be a hot commodity sought after by many MLB clubs. My friend ended up signing with the New York Yankees in the second round of the MLB June Amateur Draft right out of high school and as Tom Petty would say, “the future was wide open.”

Setbacks on the field, as well as off the field, led him to bounce around the Minor Leagues like a fan trying to reach first base in a dizzy bat race.  My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball. Over 10 seasons he had a career .513 winning percentage, and a career 4.32 earned run average (ERA). After 10 years of chasing the dream my friend finally called it a career without so much as a cup of coffee in the show.

My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball proving that not every dream of playing MLB ball comes true.
Photo R. Anderson

There are thousands of players just like my friend who seek the bright lights of big-league ballparks only to find their dreams cut short. While the answer varies depending on who you ask, most people can agree that only about 10 to 20 percent of the people drafted by MLB teams will ever make it to the Majors.

So, the thinking goes that by reducing the number of teams and the rounds in the draft MLB is forcing people who wouldn’t have made it to the MLB anyway to start their post baseball playing days earlier.

Many will bounce along as long as possible chasing the dream until the realities of life and family commitments lead them to a steadier form of work. These players are the real Crash Davis types, in honor of the character Kevin Costner played in Bull Durham.

I lost track of my friend a few years before the end of his career but would still follow his career whenever I saw a blurb on one of the Minor League sites. I hope he is doing well for himself and that he landed on his feet after he hung up his glove for the last time.

Whenever baseball does resume it will be different on so many fronts. COVID-19 exposed a crack in the professional sports diversion that people have counted on to get them through so many other trying times in the past. Now that people know that sports are not the recession proof, tragedy proof, and pandemic proof light in a time of darkness that they thought they were, people will need to decide whether they will still put their trust in sports to distract and comfort them, or if they will find other ways to deal with whatever life throws at them.

In many ways, we are all Minor League players trying to hang on to the dream for one more season, while knowing in the back of our heads that at some point we will need to put our cleats away and face life head on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch Bull Durham.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Social Experiment on Value of Social Distancing to Face Biggest Test as Sports World Watches

Throughout the worldwide timeout brought about by the COVID-19 virus, there have been two main schools of thought related to the value of people social distancing to avoid spreading the virus.

One school of thought, let’s call them science, maintains that the best way to mitigate the spread of a virus, that has no cure, and no proven treatment, is to stay six feet apart, wear masks when around other people, wash hands constantly, and avoid touching the mouth and nose area.

The other school of thought, let’s call them Sweden, believes that the virus that has killed over 109,000 Americans, and over 330,000 people worldwide, will go away on its own, and that people should just roll the dice and go about their lives as if a huge global pandemic was not hanging over their heads in an effort to establish herd immunity equipped with the knowledge that one has to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

There are of course nuggets of truth to each side’s position, since no one really knows for sure how this brand-new virus will finally ramp down. Team science is right in saying that smaller gatherings of people mean less opportunities to spread the virus. At the same time, team Sweden is also right in saying that one cannot stay isolated forever.

While the two camps differ on the value of social distancing as a whole, one thing that both sides should be able to agree on, is that minority populations, elderly populations, and populations with underlying health conditions should take extra precautions related to how they respond to the threat of COVID-19.

To a certain degree, each and every one of us is free to decide which camp we want to belong to, sort of like the people of Los Angeles have the choice between rooting for the Angels, or the Dodgers. One team wins a lot, has a storied history, and has their own unique hot dog. The other team is the Angels.

To a certain degree, each and every one of us is free to decide which camp we want to belong to when it comes to social distancing, or not social distancing during the time of COVID-19, just like the people of Los Angeles have the choice between rooting for the Angels, or the Dodgers. One team wins a lot, has a storied history, and has their own unique hot dog. The other team is the Angels.
Photo R. Anderson

Starting today, the two COVID-19 camps are likely to see which approach to social distancing was the right call. The data points come courtesy of 14 days of coast to coast protests acting as a major case study in what happens when thousands of people occupy the same space for extended periods of time in the midst of a pandemic.

Although many people have been seen wearing masks during television coverage of the protests, there are also many people who are not wearing masks. Additionally, with additional law enforcement and media members on the street in close proximity many cities are facing the equivalent of filling several Ballparks multiple times each day.

The widely agreed upon incubation period for COVID-19 is around two weeks. So, with today marking the 14th day since the protests began, any wide-spread outbreaks of the virus should start to materialize any day now, and will last for up to two weeks after the last protest. There are very few historical data points for what happens when one protests during a global pandemic, so a lot of new ground is being plowed on both the social justice front as well as on a medical front.

This is where the world of sports will be sure to take notice as they try to determine when, and how to reintroduce players onto the field, and fans into the stands. If team science is right, the numbers of infections will spike as a result of the proximity of protesters, and a lack of adherence to social distancing guidelines. This would show to the sports leagues around the world that the risk of bringing fans into the stands is still very high.

If team Sweden is right, cases will not spike and calls to open everything up the way they were before the middle of March 2020 will grow louder. Of course, the wrinkle to solely relying on visible symptoms of COVID-19 in determining a path forward is that many of the cases of COVID-19 do not lend themselves to outward signs of symptoms. So, even if there is a widespread outbreak, it would likely not be revealed unless people partaking in the protests were tested for the virus.

With several professional and collegiate sports teams reporting COVID-19 cases after players have started returning to practice, it becomes clear that there is risk even without fans in the stands.

Scott Dixon, shown following the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston, won the first race of the delayed 2020 IndyCar season at Texas Motor Speedway. Although fans were not at the race in Texas, series officials have said that fans will be in attendance when the crown jewel Indy 500 is run even if that means delaying the race beyond the current August time frame.
Photo R. Anderson

The desire of professional sports leagues to pack as many fans into the stands as quickly as possible is both a financial need, as well as a psychological need.

Although the Indy Car Series returned to action for the first time in 2020 this past weekend with a fan free race at Texas Motor Speedway, series officials went on record as saying that the Indianapolis 500, which has been moved from May to August, would be delayed again in the event that fans cannot attend an August race.

The message being sent is loud and clear, the Indy 500 will not happen without butts in the seats, even if that means there is no Indy 500 this year.

While the Indy 500 is a significant race, allowing some races to be held without fans in order to generate revenue, but saying that the INDY 500 is too important of a race to run without fans seems like an insult to the other races on the schedule.

That would be like Major League Baseball saying that the Yankees are too important to the history of the game to play in an empty Ballpark, so fans can pile into Yankee Stadium, but the other 29 Ballparks need to remain empty.

The Indy 500 is the largest single-day sporting event in the world, and with room for over 400,000 spectators, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is often recognized as the largest sports venue in the world. It is hard to imagine any scenario where 400,000 people are going to be allowed to congregate anywhere, anytime soon during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even at 25 percent capacity, an Indy 500 with 100,000 people seems like a bit of a stretch and would be something that would certainly make team science cringe. On the other hand, team Sweden would likely say, “och förarna startar dina motorer,” or roughly translated as “drivers start your engines.”

That is why the infection rates coming out of the weeks of protest will be so crucial in planning the next front in the battle against the COVID-19 virus.

Sports and science are both driven by statistics. The near-term future of professional and collegiate sports is very likely to be determined by what the rate of infection looks like over the coming weeks. It is a case study that no one could have envisioned at the start of the pandemic when the world of sports shut down one league at a time. Now that it has happened, the numbers cannot be ignored, just as the issues behind what led to the protests will also need to be addressed in the sports world, as well as the world as a whole.

COVID-19, as well as the protests for social justice that are occurring in the middle of a pandemic will both shape the direction of the world both in the short-term, as well as the long-term. There is no question that history is being written. Time will tell what those history books end up saying when all is said and done.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about team Sweden has me wanting to build an armoire using a tiny wrench that can also double as a meatball skewer.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson