The things we miss most about baseball as MLB's coronavirus delay stretches on

Yahoo Sports

More than a month of baseball season has passed with no Major League Baseball played as the United States continues to contend with the effects of the coronavirus. 

Though thankful for the return of the KBO and action from the CPBL in Taiwan, we at Yahoo Sports can’t help but think about the familiar rhythms of the sport and the reasons we follow baseball to begin with.

So this week, we offer odes to the things we most miss baseball. Tell us what you’re missing about the game on Twitter.

In-between hops

The experience of witnessing the in-between hop begins in the subconscious, where the mind gathers and processes the journey of a baseball that, on little more than a whim, has chosen disorder. What some might pejoratively call a bad hop, it surely considers to be freedom of expression.

There are countless subtleties in a game that could be played to infinity. None is as shaded as the footwork of, say, a shortstop whose legs are in disagreement with each other, whose instincts whisper, “You’re on your own here,” and whose soul gets straight to the business of whether to be struck by a speeding baseball in the lip, the neck or the groin.

The glove is the fourth, emergency, option. 

The best thing about sports is not knowing what will happen next.

(The worst thing about sports is those who think they have an equation for that.)

Not in this one but in most years they play the seasons, the games, all of the innings to find out if any of those go the way you think they might. They almost never do and therefore sports are glorious.

Even prodigious Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is occasionally felled by an unruly hop on the infield. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Even prodigious Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is occasionally felled by an unruly hop on the infield. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Under a microscope, taken to its molecular structure, baseball is a top-spinny, get-the-married-men-off-the-infield second hop, the kind the subconscious recognizes off the bat. The rest of the body catches up with a short, hard inhale and a slight cranial recoil. By then, maybe, probably, just protect the soft-tissue areas, it’s too late.

The worst part about no baseball when there is supposed to be baseball is the absence of those micro-moments, the in-between hops that come and go, and that in the end separate the great from the good. Most nights, you’d hardly even know they were there. Other times, you miss them desperately. - Tim Brown

Chaos and unpredictability

I miss everything about baseball. I really do. But there's nothing I miss more than expecting the unexpected and still being surprised by the curveballs this wonderful game throws at us. 

Whether it's something completely unimaginable, like Fernando Tatis hitting two grand slams in one inning. Or something bizarre, like the George Brett pine tar game. Or a triple play that takes us back to our Little League days. Or Scooter Gennett hitting four home runs. Baseball is full of surprises that don’t allow you to take your eye off the ball. 

Don't get me wrong. The consistency and reliability baseball season typically provides is great, too. Knowing that for eight months we'll always have a game to watch, attend or talk about is a nice feeling. Having that escape from whatever's going on in the world can be comforting. It certainly would be during times like these. But the adrenaline caused by baseball’s unpredictable nature is like nothing else.

I miss the weird. I miss the unusual. I miss introducing fans to the newest unlikely hero. 

OK, so maybe I don’t miss rewriting a game story or trashing a no-hitter post after 8 ⅔ innings. But I do miss sharing those moments we didn’t see coming with those who love baseball and chaos as much as we do. I can’t wait to do it all again. - Mark Townsend

Pregame at the ballpark

The number of hours I’ve spent watching baseball at home as a half-distracted spectator dwarf the professional hours I’ve spent at a ballpark to such an extreme degree that the most honest answer to what I miss most about baseball would be: Having something to put on over dinner. Sitting down to eat and selecting a game from the MLB.tv app. During the season there is baseball on my home television more hours than not. I miss the ubiquity, the soundtrack, the easy cohabitation of soothing sameness and did-you-see-that. So, yeah, (not so) secretly, I really just miss falling asleep on the couch two innings into a West Coast broadcast. But when I think about what I’m missing out on as the warmer weeks without baseball pile up, it’s the games I would get to be at.

My favorite part of being at the ballpark professionally — and since being anywhere for any reason around thousands of people feels especially precious right now, this is what I’m fixated on — is the stretch of time between when clubhouses close pregame and first pitch. More than the walk-offs or even interviews, I love that liminal space between what is private and what is part of a copyrighted telecast presented by authority of the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball.

Through a series of almost ritualistic drills the people I just saw changing out of their street clothes are transformed into a cohesive team. Through a steady influx of fans, the stark architecture of a bunch of empty seats becomes a sports stadium. The griddle top gets hot and the concourse starts smelling like summer. People are busy and bustling in service of what will soon be a singular event, but it’s also a chance to address individual needs before the game begins — be it an extra round of infield work, a conversation with a pitching coach, or a signature on a poster that asks a favorite player to hit a homer for someone’s birthday.

It’s weird, all these people working so hard 15 times over every night for months on end. Waiting in line and raking the basepaths and shooting the s--- behind the cage for the sake of something that only matters because we give it meaning. These are just people and this is just dirt but I miss watching the labor of love to turn it into a baseball game and a diamond. - Hannah Keyser

Fantasy baseball

I didn’t get into baseball naturally, I needed the pull of fantasy sports to make me a baseball fanatic. I’ve been playing fantasy baseball for roughly 15 years now, and not being able to watch my fantasy team the first couple weeks kinda sucks. This isn’t an instance of me trying to talk to you about my fantasy team. No one wants that. Instead, let me tell you why something as silly as fantasy sports matters.

For me, fantasy sports gives me a deeper appreciation for the game and its players. Would I have fully appreciated Edwin Encarnacion’s exceptional hitting prowess had he not been on my fantasy team for a couple years? Probably not. Would I have watched any Pittsburgh Pirates games last season if not for Jameson Taillon? Nope. Do I regret either of those things? I do not. Because watching a team like the Pirates expands my knowledge of the game. You can learn a lot about individual player’s strengths and weaknesses, and about organizational strategies, even if you’re watching a bad team. 

Fantasy baseball also forces me to take deep, statistical dives on players I would otherwise ignore. When my catcher is batting .110 in May, I’m scouring the waiver wire trying to determine whether Christian Vázquez’s breakout is for real, or if James McCann’s propensity for strikeouts will catch up to him in the coming weeks. That analysis can fuel how I feel about a player in real life. If a deep dive on a struggling José Ramírez reveals Ramírez should be performing better, I’m going to watch more of his at-bats to try and determine why he’s struggling.

For me, fantasy sports isn’t just about the competition or the bragging rights, it’s about gaining a deeper understanding of the game I love so much. When we’re 30 games into the 2020 MLB season and my fantasy ace has a 5.50 ERA, I won’t even be mad this season. I’ll open up the nerd websites ready and willing to learn from my mistake. - Chris Cwik

May surprises

I miss the surprise of it all. Every year, Major League Baseball gives us something that nobody was expecting. Whether it’s Trevor Story going on a rookie home run binge that we’ve never seen before. Or, if you wanna take it back further, Chris Shelton turning into Superman for a week.

Trevor Story, now the Rockies' established shortstop, shocked the baseball world with a barrage of homers during his rookie season. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Trevor Story, now the Rockies' established shortstop, shocked the baseball world with a barrage of homers during his rookie season. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

I miss the surprise teams, the ones who make us spend a few weeks wondering if they’re actually good or just an early-season fluke. You know, like when a team like the 2019 Minnesota Twins gets out to a hot start and we don’t know what to make of them. Or when a team nobody is expecting much from — I feel like this is usually the Rockies for some reason — crashes back to earth after a strong start.

I miss the collective baseball fandom gushing over a Pete Alonso or a Chris Paddack and watching the breakout of a Marcus Semien. I miss looking at Memorial Day as some baseball-specific deadline of when the surprises become real.

We know that Mike Trout is going to be good and the Tigers are going to be bad, that Jacob deGrom is going to be money and the Mets are somehow going to swallow their shoe. But every single year, right about now, is when we start looking at a month or so of baseball and taking stock of all the surprises around us. It feels a little empty without them. 

Here’s to those May surprises, wherever you are — may you hopefully become August surprises, because that would mean we have baseball in July. - Mike Oz

Baseball as life force

As a diehard baseball fan, my year is divided into two parts: baseball and not baseball. When the season begins, my husband (also a baseball fan) and I adjust our household schedule to accommodate watching as much baseball as possible. A game goes on in the living room right at 7, we finish making dinner during the first inning or two, we eat and switch to the radio broadcast while we're cleaning up, and then we skip around to other games until the West Coast contests begin. Most nights we fall asleep to the sounds of baseball.

Those predictable, comfortable rhythms are absent from my life for the first time since I became a serious baseball fan a decade ago, and they've left a void that nothing else can really replace. I miss knowing that every night there will be a new game to experience and anything could happen. I miss chatting with my friends on Twitter and Slack as the game goes on, or joining in the conversation once the game is over. I miss getting exclamation point-filled texts from my dad once the Phillies game is in the books. I miss checking the scores when I'm out on a Saturday afternoon. (And I miss just being out on a Saturday afternoon.)

Most of all, I miss the camaraderie that comes from talking about baseball with a community of baseball fans. In the morning we're all talking about the same things: how did our teams do, who got injured, who did well, who should be sent down, who isn't getting enough playing time, and so on. The topics remain the same, but the subjects change from day to day. We're not talking about life and death, just baseball, but it's important because we care about it. 

Social media can be a cruel and damaging place, but baseball can make it friendlier. You can connect with people, share opinions and ideas, and make dumb jokes that only make sense to your particular corner of fandom. I even met several close friends and my husband because we all talked about baseball on the internet. So while I desperately miss baseball, I miss even more all the ways that baseball used to fill up my life. - Liz Roscher

Anticipation

As we are all exceedingly aware at the moment, days can be hard to separate. If you’re on the regular ho-hum schedule that is more present in our heads than in practice, there is Sunday, the day before work. There is Monday, the day work starts. And there is Friday, the last day of work until the next one.

But during baseball season there’s something else. It takes different forms for everyone, but for me it looks like the MLB At Bat app scores page. It’s a tap on the schedule on the morning commute. Games and times expand to show the pitching matchups, the menu for the evening.

It’s a more focused scroll in the afternoon, a puzzle of my time and attention to solve.

What I might struggle to place as Wednesday becomes The Day When Walker Buehler Faces Jack Flaherty. Or some such trivial but purposeful marking of the time. There is the constant carrot, the next branch to grab hold of. A light at the end of every tunnel.

This, in some sense, is the one thing baseball is still providing — something to look forward to. But it’s May now, and I’m used to that daily boost being far, far more tangible. - Zach Crizer

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