Let’s say we get to the end of October. You know, baseball-wise. They play 60 games, then to the end of the World Series, and then a couple dozen guys are trying for another six feet of social-distanced carry on their Champagne jets.
Many of those men will have:
Left their families, gone out on the road during a pandemic and stayed there for four months.
Endured 60 tests for the coronavirus, spitting and getting swabbed as if getting worked over by mom on the way into church.
Endured 60 waits for results that would have them quarantine for days (having already possibly infected others) or return to the ballpark and hit third.
Been sealed into the experience of the new national quaran-time, which meant masks, distancing, broken habits, urgent calls from home, empty ballparks, inflexible schedules, Zoom meetings, hotel meals, personal baseballs, personal water receptacles and more urgent calls from home.
Taken a three-week rolling start into the season, a time in which friends and teammates opted out or tested positive, and in which the closest thing to competition was an intrasquad game, and turned it into something like presentable baseball.
When (or if) we get to that postgame, maybe the rules will have changed, back to when handshakes were acceptable greetings and geysering a beer from your mouth into another was just a way of saying, “Hey, nice hit.”
But, probably not.
However much of this season they play, from some of it to all of it, the numbers will be legitimate enough. The champion will be every inch of legitimate. Take 37 percent of a baseball season, add a physical and metaphysical obstacle course, consider the effort required to do a job — any job — in 2020 and then put the asterisk in your pocket. This champion will not be a lesser champion.
For so many reasons.
The season compares to no other, and certainly not to a strike year, which is where many have gone to assimilate context. There is no context. The season stands alone — until, maybe, next summer — as a game hoping to be played between the raindrops of a national deluge. Those who seek to lessen this season’s value, or its rigors, stand too close to the absolutes and too distant from the choices, sacrifices and sweat that make them.
The marathoner does not lord his distance over the miler. Same sport, same effort, same dedication, same podium. Both ultimately held to whether they finished ahead of everyone else or not.
The ‘20 season will not ask for a seven-month ditch-dig. There will be a .400 hitter or three. There will be an ERA that reflects the time and place, if not the typical season. Those will be viewed in the proper setting, with the proper caveats. But, a winner? A champion?
Put 60 games and a call for 11 or 12 more wins in front of 30 teams, in front of all those athletes, make up an entirely different game for all it matters, and what happens from there is wholly honest. It is their nature. How many stories have you read about so-and-so being the “most competitive person I’ve ever been around, dude has to win at tic-tac-toe?” The answer is, how many big leaguers are there, because about 90 percent of that.
Turn on the lights, line the field, have an umpire point and nod to the pitcher, and that’s a game. The rules hardly even matter then, long as everybody gets them and (mostly) abides by them, because then it’s just something to win at, a reason to show up, a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
So it’s a dumb, bastardized, watered-down, reckless, pain-in-the-ass of a season. All the more reason to win the damned thing, if you’re gonna be out there anyway.
Maybe the best part of the next champion, assuming we get past next weekend, will be its reflection of an entire organization’s efforts on and off the field, on and off the clock, from baseball operations to the medical staff to the clubbies to the intern who took a wrong turn and ended up in the clubhouse, from putting up 20 home runs in 60 games to sneezing into your elbow, and in some cases its reflection of an entire city’s efforts.
Because it will be hard. All of it will be hard. What comes will not be the result of 25 or 30 guys playing well, but of hundreds, thousands, even millions, living well. Living smart. Living selflessly. Has any season of any length ever required a more severe buy-in? Greater attention — and adherence — to detail? Grown men with families are about to play into the breath of this thing, are about to ride this thing, are about to survive this thing, to compete. To win. That’s the whole point.
And what’s more legitimate than that?
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