If 2020 Was a Baseball Game…(Daryll)

If 2020 was a baseball game, we would be in the middle of a big fat rain delay.

Not the fun kind of rain delay either. Sometimes during rain delays it’s light and some players decide to slide across the tarp. or jousting tournaments start up amongst teammates.

No, 2020 is more like the rain delay where it’s in the top of the 5th inning with 2 outs and the home team is down 11-1. The game doesn’t mean anything to you(home team), but your opponent is in a pennant race so they are determined to finish the game because they need the win, and this one looks easy since they’re up by 10 runs. It’s not even yet an official game yet, there’s no hope to recover, and what started as a sprinkle is now a full fledged downpour. Yes – 2020 has that feel to it so far.

Beyond that the current Coronavirus pandemic has a slow motion car crash feel to it. I had DVR’d a show from early January and at the end of the show the anchor previewed the upcoming newscast: “Mysterious illness affects a couple dozen people in China” he had said. Dozens. That was three months ago. It sped up quickly.

The devastation hit in successively faster punches after that, as we were hit with not only the health concerns, but just as quickly with loneliness, death, grief, anger, fear, and a myriad of other emotions as safety measures were taken. All at once these feelings took over our new schedule where (those of us without children) all of a sudden had a lot more time. No social meetings, no work travel, no sports.

This is a baseball blog – and what I offer today are outside the foul lines of a baseball field – until the end of the article. What you will find here are thoughts on how we can potentially use this situation and find positives in the negative, how to think about others, and how the idea of “others” can be fundamentally expanded during this pandemic.

In a baseball game, when the pitching coach goes to the mound, it is often not about telling the pitcher something physical he is doing wrong. It is much more often a mental reassurance, bringing the pitcher down from the emotion of being on a pitching mound where every pitch you throw affects your teammates fortunes. Just look how this gets done in the classic Bull Durham scene: (Warning: language)

Perhaps this hard time will lead to some moments of consensus like the one in Bull Durham. Wedding registries are just as prevalent in 2020 as they were in 1988 after all, right?

As many people lose their jobs both already with likely more to come, perhaps as a society we can find something positive to build up from? This is a global phenomenon, and yet with the shelter-in-place mandates the world has seemed so much smaller. We are confined to our houses and our neighborhoods like never before. You might have even met a few new neighbors and had a conversation 6 feet apart from them. Rather than looking for a scapegoat and others to point a finger at, loving and caring about our neighbors is a trend I would like to see grow far beyond our stay at home orders.

We need to help each other. The baseball community is helping. Alex Bregman and his fiancee helped raise over $1M for the Houston Food Bank, Minor Leaguers are being paid at least through May – even as Major League Baseball looks to eliminate significant aspects of minor league baseball.

It is also a time to reflect on where we are now and where we want to go with our lives. For some this lockdown leaves us alone with thoughts about our lives, for others a lost job now might be setting up a career change on the other side. Anthony Iannarino writes about his experience during the The Great Recession as the 2000’s ended:

It’s never a wrong time to do an accounting of your life, but there is never a better time than using a crisis to create a point of departure.

I love that concept of a point of departure. In investing, while trying to perfectly time the markets is never a good idea, buying during a downturn can often yield dramatic results. As the stock market fell dramatically in the first weeks of the virus hitting the United States, many investors had been waiting for this decline for years and gleefully bought up stocks on their watchlists for the last several years. What many might see as a negative action becomes the point to stand up from as you come up the other side of the valley.

All circumstances are different in this situation, but the physical world we live in hasn’t changed. We are still inhabiting these same bodies with this same life we’ve been given – and this moment might be the impetus to reflect and come out stronger on the other side as people. The key now is to take advantage of where we are.

In his 2016 book How to Be Here, Rob Bell talks about three attitudes that can ruin us if we let them: boredom, cynicism, and despair.

“Boredom reveals what we believe about the kind of world we’re living in. Boredom is lethal because it reflects a static, fixed view of the world – a world that is finished…Cynicism acts as though it’s seen a lot and knows how the world works, shooting down new ideas and efforts as childish and uninformed…Despair says, Nothing we make matters. Despair reflects a pervasive dread that it’s all pointless and that we are, in the end, simply wasting our time.”

These attitudes seem especially dangerous in this moment, with so many of our usual distractions gone. We are forced to think inward and hope we like what we find. These three attitudes of boredom, cynicism, and despair can root themselves in our psyche and  be the enemy of productive thought when left unchecked and unnamed.

So where does baseball fit in all of this?

Early on into this social distancing lockdown as ESPN in particular struggled to respond to a world without sports, they were replaying Game 7 of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. I had forgotten a few of the particulars of that game, particularly that the Cubs had gotten out to a nice lead before the Indians fought back. In that moment the Cubs narrative takes over of “Yes, it has been 108 years since a Championship for a reason” as visions of the Billy Goat and Leon Durham and Steve Bartman dance in Cubs fans heads. Then came Rajai Davis(who should be added to this list). Chapman looked gassed but manages to get through the 9th to force extra innings in Game 7 for just the 5th time in baseball history.

Then a rain delay got called. The baseball gods didn’t want this one to end.

So in the biggest stage of their lives, in the ultimate moment of sports – extra innings of Game 7 of a world championship series – there was a pause.

The teams biggest free agent signing the previous off-season who was a bust in Year 1 Jason Heyward called a players only meeting. According to SI writer Tom Verducci he gave a speech that went something like this:

“We’re the best team in baseball, and we’re the best team in baseball for a reason,” Heyward said. “Now we’re going to show it. We play like the score is nothing-nothing. We’ve got to stay positive and fight for your brothers. Stick together and we’re going to win this game.”

They went back out onto the field after 17 minutes, scored two runs and held on to win by one run and close out what I call the most meaningful game in baseball history. They stuck together and won the game and the first World Series in franchise history since 1908. They were not bored. They did not let cynicism creep in watching their closer blow a lead. They did not despair as they felt the weight of history on their shoulders.

They acted. They came together, regrouped, and came out stronger on the other side.

The impact of this worldwide disease will linger forever. This disease didn’t discriminate by country, age, gender, religion, income, or anything else. The economic and social impacts are far reaching, in addition to an understanding that as humans we are frail who are just as susceptible to a pandemic in 2020 as we were in 1918. This is a difficult time as world citizens, but it will end.  I’m optimistic we will emerge with fresh perspectives about ourselves and how to treat others.

The rain delay will end, and when it does, we better be ready to play ball.

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