My first Professional Opinion Sharer’s reaction when I heard that schools and businesses were closing, along with all sporting events, concerts, and bars, was: There are going to be so many murders. So many. Entire families cooped up together in a single house is going to result in a higher death toll than anything coronavirus could possibly attempt.

But then.

 

“Baseball tonight!” my fellow RN writer Ashley Davis shouted at me and everybody else from across the internet.

“I LIKE THIS,” I yelled back from my quarantine. But not really. I just clicked a little heart next to what she’d typed, but this is how we have to think in terms of communication now.

She was shouting about the pickup sandlot game Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer and Momentum organized in Arizona. There was little warning, no advertising, zero pre-game show, and not one electronic scoreboard. The production team consisted of two guys holding up their phones. It was baseball so pure and so basic there was a cutoff jean shorts sighting.

It was beautiful, beautiful, and no scorekeeper was present, but it was an official MLB game since Derek Dietrich was hit by a pitch multiple times. By the end of the night they were shagging flies with one of those fat red toddler bats. The MVP received a large bottle of hand sanitizer–not one of those mini trial versions, mind you, but the ones we used to be able to find at Sam’s Club. All in all, a true folk song.

The National Anthem consisted of someone in the back singing, “O say can you see,  and the home of the brave… that’s it. That’ll have to do.” In a sudden era of having to do while having without, it did.

Teams were chosen by throwing a bat in the air vertically, then catching the handle as the barrel plummeted towards the ground. Hand over hand, the two captains took turns holding on to decide their fate.

If the impact of the entire event might be presented in one frame, it’s that one–multiple hands grasping the bat for dear life. Everything has been cast into the air. We have to hold on.

Ostensibly, the game was a fundraiser for stadium workers whose livelihood has vanished until at least June (donate here.) In the great way of baseball, it was more than that. It was a glimmer of Normal.

I can still see my high school U.S. history teacher’s handwriting on the chalkboard (yes, handwriting; yes, chalkboard): “Sports = safety valve.” This, Mr. Horton explained, was in the context of the winding down of the Roaring 20’s and the Great Depression; the theory that any society requires neutral, non-political grounds upon which to deflect our differences and daily concerns. It’s how we let off steam so that we’re not actually letting it off on one another. The Civil War ended in 1865; the Cincinnati Red Stockings came into existence the next year. We’d learned the hard way that we needed a way to fight peacefully. Still do.

The safety valve springs dangerous leaks when it’s abused—by nations swapping doctored drug tests in exchange for Olympics gold, professional teams and university administrators oozing corruption into college sports, and whoever takes multiple bobbleheads directly from the stadium gate to eBay.

We’re about to find out what happens when the safety valve is slammed shut. Professional basketball, college spring football scrimmages, grade school leagues -– it’s gone, and gone for a significant amount of time. Initially, it was three weeks, then eight; a mere twitch of an eyelash in a single lifespan, but in Internet World, that’s an entire geologic age.

At the same time, the Virtue Police have been patrolling social media with their sirens and their signal flares: “How dare you discuss something so trivial in a time like this,” one pearl-clutched at a journalist who committed the mortal sin of reporting on franchise tag movement in the NFL.

He dares to keep the rest of us sane, that’s what. He was desperately attempting to place some Normal, like a jeweler struggling to fit a precious stone into a battered setting.

It’s not often that we’re fully aware of living out history. We are experiencing this right now. We tend to think of history as a relentless march of expected and scheduled events—inaugurations, royal weddings. The implication of living out events so enormous that we’re aware of their significance at the time is a tremendous strain.

The worldwide impacts are a million different threads through a million different lives: How will I make next month’s rent without the tips from my bartending job? What are we going to do with this wedding we have planned for the third Saturday in April? How do you just…postpone a spring break internship?  Normal is fragile, and that fragility has shattered for every single one of us, all at once.

I sent Josh the Pilot off to the airport this morning with the feeling that he was shipping out for war. He isn’t, of course–any more than the owner of a small restaurant desperately trying to float the family business on a raft of Styrofoam take-out containers. But in a DVR and streaming era in which we almost never experience the same events at the same time, the onset of a stillborn baseball season has us grasping for the handle of that bat diving towards the dirt.

There is a reason why I cherish the Reds’ first home game after 9/11 more than the 1990 World Series tilt I attended, and the 2002 Kentucky Derby over any Triple Crown performance. It is because these moments represented the defiance of Normal. The very enacting of them means that we are okay. Alive. These horses will run in a circle; these grown men will stand around scratching themselves as we pay to watch them standing around scratching themselves, and eff you to anyone or anything trying to stop it.

Sports is at its best when it’s more than sports.

I’m the rare sportswriter who can pick sports up and put them back down again. The only reason I can is that I have fifteen years worth of prescriptions and therapy laid into creating a sense of identity outside of whether My Team wins or loses–or anything else. It is very, very difficult. I don’t always succeed. Detaching from outside influences is something I must make a conscious decision to do, and you know when it’s hardest? When I feel alone. When I’m frightened. When the outside world is much too much. Sports isn’t just our safety valve. It’s our security blanket.

I’ve stayed away from the gym and exercise classes since this blew up to avoid becoming a potential disease vector for my immunocompromised mother. It’s meant a lot of slinging ten-pound Walmart weights around my little home office, and that’s okay. I’m a weapons-grade introvert who has literally hidden behind doors, my husband, and mounds of tortilla chips at parties. I’ve been training my whole life for this moment.

But this morning I livestreamed a class from one of my favorite teachers, a luminous and placid soul named Meredith Hogan, who wears wonderful long impractical earrings into the studio and sings the beauty of garbage trucks.

“Isn’t that wonderful,” she once exclaimed when the peace of the room was splintered by the emptying of an outside wall dumpster. “Just when we were talking about releasing what we don’t need, the recycling truck came.” Everybody needs a Mer.

Thanks to Internet lag, my learning disability, and general incompetence, there were many times in the class when I had no idea what I was “supposed” to be doing. So I made it up. I did an approximation of Normal. I did what seemed right under the circumstances. No one else saw, or cared. It would have to do. It did.

As we sought our balance together with 120 other people, together yet apart, Mer encouraged us to banish loneliness and fear, reaching instead for wisdom and courage. “Know that when your two lungs expand, they embrace your heart,” she said. The act of living, of drawing breath even through damaged lungs, is an embrace of the core of our very selves.

Though I’d just been eyeing the bookcase full of unread wonders next to me on the floor, all new friends waiting to be luxuriously met, I felt tears join the sweat on my face. I wasn’t merely burning calories or distracting myself from deadlines for sixty minutes. This was… more.

It was multiple hands holding on for dear life.

Editors note: We’ve added the game so you can watch if you missed it.

22 Responses

  1. John Fulford

    You did it again. Who knew? Great read, MB.
    JJF

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Hi John! Thanks! I take it all HOF Ambassadors are ambassadoring from afar?

  2. Eric

    I wish I had caught that game. With due respect to the ’86 Mets (which is to say, none – haha) it sounds like that was “Baseball Like It Oughta Be.”

    Thanks for checking in, MB!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      If you go to Momentum’s Twitter feed. you can see some of it! Very loose and fun.

    • Doug Gray

      I will add the game to the post and you can watch it there.

  3. Wild Bill

    Thanks MB . . . effectively tugs at the heart strings with both sadness and hope wrapped up in a slightly untidy package – much like today’s new normal and the pangs we feel when we hear/feel echos of Vin Scully and the Boys of Summer. I truly relish your dispatches.

    Take much care, WB

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Untidy–that’s us right now! Many thanks for the kind words 🙂

  4. Mark Moore

    I need this today. As I sit in my home office (an 8×10 outbuilding), I know my wife and I won’t kill each other, the newlyweds have their own space in the upstairs apartment, and my Detroit daughter is in constant contact while she’s on shutdown. But we’ll survive somehow.

    Many will not survive, either through their own stupidity or neglect, or the selfish neglect of others. It’s going to be after Memorial Day by all accounts when we’ll find out what the new “normal” looks like. But we’ll survived.

    And a big part of that for me, is because of MBE and the FACT that “Baseball is Life”. It’s on hold, but it’s still life. And when it starts up, I’ll buy my MLB-tv subscription (probably heavily discounted) and we’ll proceed. We’ll probably have lost at least a few along the way, but we’ll go forward.

    Be well, friends.

    • Mark Moore

      I think a double-feature screening of “The Sandlot” and “Field of Dreams” might be in order.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Many thanks… what is helpful for me to remember is that we are ALL going through this at the same time. That wasn’t the case in the 2009 recession. I think everyone is going to be more understanding and forgiving this time around as we ride it out. And I think we will be OK a lot sooner than we think.
      All will be well.

      • greenmtred

        Well, we’ll get more accustomed to this, anyway. Somebody made the excellent point that in most disasters, people seek each other out for support. But this one just means that we have to be more creative to provide community support. I’m already seeing that happening. You’re helping with that, Mary Beth, Doug, too.

  5. RojoBenjy

    Thanks for the well-written and contemplative essay, Aunt MBE.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thank you! Ironically us freelancers don’t have any down time since it’s just life as usual for us, with less toilet paper, so I appreciate the positive feedback 🙂

  6. Scott C

    Great article again Mary Beth. My heart goes out to people who work in the restaurant business and other that have no benefits or wage guarantee. I think the worst of this for most of us is going to be economic impact. My wife and I have been planning for over a year to retire in June and now we watch our Retirement investments dwindle every day. Man we need sports to bring some normal.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks Scott– it’s VERY scary, and I’m so sorry you’re having this experience right now. But I have a strong feeling that we will bounce back quickly. I’ve already been told that my income will drop from 2 clients, and as a pilot wife, these are not reassuring days…
      Hang in there.

      • Scott C

        I hope your pilot hubby stays safe and doesn’t have to fly overseas.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Well, he is indeed an international pilot– goes into Toronto every now and then 😉 But with the borders closed, we’re all staying “in bounds.”

  7. Indy Red Man

    ” There are going to be so many murders. So many. Entire families cooped up together in a single house is going to result in a higher death toll than anything coronavirus could possibly attempt.”

    Many more pregnancies and murder/suicides. The new cycle of life))((((((((

    My attempt at early retirement didn’t go well so I’ve been working at Amazon since October. They gave us a $2 raise and said that America is counting on us! Everyone can now rejoice because skids and skids of jumbo toilet paper are going out on a hourly basis! I’m convinced many families have that covered for the next 4 generations….provided there is atleast 4 more?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Ship some of that Charmin over here!

  8. Michael Smith

    Beautifully written Mary Beth. Thank you for sparing some of your valuable social distancing time to put pen to paper.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Many thanks for reading and for the kind words. Except for at-home workouts, it’s pretty much life as normal for this work-at-home introvert!