When we count it up and agree on a champion, the 2020 baseball season will have first been about elements other than baseball. That there still might not be a champion, that the season will rather end in a sad shrug and a wave from six feet, was part of the deal in starting at all.
This was always going to be a daily survey of whether a relatively small group — a few thousand — could conduct itself with any more restraint than the rest. For the greater good, for something more than themselves, might these few take on a temporary summons to diligence, empathy and baseball?
And could they get lucky enough to drive the whole thing through the storm? Could they remain that committed? Could they drag along those who are not?
Somebody might very well win. First, they’ll have to stay upright for the baseball, which is where the real fight will have been, in the daily 21 hours around the baseball.
By Friday evening, a week since they’d been shut down because of another bubble-up of positive coronavirus tests, 16 days since they left a series in Minneapolis on a trip bound for nowhere, the Cardinals were re-sketching workout plans, travel plans, game plans, filling test tubes with spit, bracing for bad news when their phones buzzed and really hoping the virus had grown bored of, among other things, ruining their season.
An eighth staffer, this time a coach, tested positive Thursday, according to a source, bringing the known total to 10 players and eight others, and the Cardinals trudged on. Today’s objective is to get to Saturday, which would involve getting to Chicago in time for a doubleheader against the White Sox, getting there healthy and getting there with enough baseball players to fill a 28-man roster.
There are roughly 300 miles between St. Louis and Chicago, which doesn’t seem like much in the age of airplanes. Yet this remains the summer of 2020 and therefore the next effortless task will be the first. So, the Cardinals will travel by cars, a 4 ½-hour journey without restroom stops or traffic or weather or Waze-less wrong turns or whatever else the summer of 2020 intends. Probably, like, swarms of something we’ve never heard of but it has fangs and suddenly makes total sense.
They do now have something to look forward to after too many mornings of “not today,” a daily irritant that also ran a distant second to the fact 18 of them had contracted an unholy virus. The plan was to get in a couple quick rounds of batting practice, then proceed directly into the buzzsaw that will ask of them 53 games in 45 days, a schedule that also could have them play two games on the day that stands between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason, that being 55 games in 46 days, all with a 28-man roster.
That’d be the cost of missing 14 games, from their first positive to the final uncertain go-ahead. When the Cardinals go to rent all those cars, they may want to see if Hertz carries pitchers too.
The Miami Marlins, who didn’t play a game between July 26 and Aug. 4, have had 45 players take at least one at-bat or throw one pitch. One of those pitchers throws with both hands. They’ve played 12 games. Because of an outbreak, they swapped out 20 players between games three and four, which were separated by those eight days.
As a result of however you count this up, starting with America’s inability to buck up in a pandemic (if we were any worse at pandemics we’d have to call them men’s soccer), and including an admission from the Marlins some of this was self-inflicted, the Marlins on Friday night, as the Cardinals caravan to Chicago, are playing their first home game of the season.
What awaits the Cardinals is three doubleheaders in five days, four doubleheaders over the rest of a half-gone August, seven doubleheaders in September, 11 doubleheaders in all, and maybe a 12th if it becomes necessary for them to play a 59th and 60th game on the day off before the postseason begins.
It’s not ideal. Of course, none of it is, and wasn’t ever supposed to be. The alternative was for the season to go on without the Cardinals, just as it was for the Marlins, as it will be for whoever’s up next, if there is to be a next. How the Cardinals are to lock themselves indoors for more than two weeks, drive 300 miles and then confront the game’s most demanding six weeks of baseball will be a daily mystery. How they will pitch all those innings. How they will patch up all those aches and pains. How they will avoid another encounter with a relentless virus.
Then, of course, they’ll have to win baseball games, to try to be champions of something so much more than a baseball season. Somebody might very well win.
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