Can you imagine a return of our sports?

by Gary Shelton on March 29, 2020

in general

Tropicana lies in wait ./CARMEN MANDATO

Sunday, 4 a.m.

The sights.

The deep green of the grass, and the uniformed men frolicking on it. The gleaming white of the baseball. The father and son, both wearing baseball gloves, sitting by the rail. The sudden intake of breath as two hockey players drop their gloves. The cornerback who is hopelessly beaten, so badly he's not even in the picture, only to have the receiver overthrown, and on his way back to the huddle, everyone high-fives the corner, as if he has accomplished something noble.

The smells.

The whiff of a fresh baseball. The smell of hot dogs. The stale beer on the guy behind you. The walk through the parking lot past fans grilling burgers. The guy in front of you who sweats like an offensive guard.

The sounds. The one lout in the crowd who keeps yelling "watch the pass" on third-and-14, as if he's the only guy who has considered the possibility. The smack of a ball inside a mitt. The groan of the crowd after another interception (does that just happen around here?). The dopey fans who think Neil Diamond is a big deal when they hear "Sweet Carolina" in Fenway Park. The beer salesmen. The anthem singer. The umpire crying "play ball."

The tastes.

A bratwurst at Lambeau Field. Crab Cakes at Camden Yards. The barbecue at a Carolina Panthers game. The tacos in Arizona. Popcorn at a Rays' game. The Bananas Foster in the press box at Raymond James. (As a child, my daughter went to her first Lightning game because she wanted cotton candy. She had it in the pregame and, once finished, pronounced herself ready to go home. Exactly 32 seconds had passed). There are as many flavors as colors, a flavor for every sport, and a sport for every fan.

Now, imagine when it all comes back.

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We are in an unprecedented shutdown of sports, and it has served to remind us how we get lost in these little games. Yes, they are trivial; that's what makes them so special. It is a place to hide in times such as these. I suppose it was this bad in 1919, when the Spanish Influenza caused the Stanley Cup to be halted with Montreal and Seattle tied 2-2 (with a tie) and the baseball season to be shortened.

And so the part of our brain that appreciates the distraction that sports provides is dry ground. We read about free agency, and about the upcoming draft, and we wait.

And when it returns, when we are whole again it will be a dozen Christmases rolled into one.

Do you think about it? Do you think about a resumption of the lives we are used to living? How can you help it? Don't you want to hear a cheering crowd (or a booing one)? Don't you want to debate whether that was a foul or not with the analyst? Are you aching to boo Roger Goodell and all he stands for?

It will be a celebration when it all returns. We over-inflate sports, true, but this time, they will represent something bigger than our particular teams. It will be a return to life, although we will be wary as it resumes. The theaters will re-open. The restaurants. And, yes, the ballparks.

Without sports, we are less than what we were. Oh, sports does not exist in a reality of its own; of course the same restrictions need to apply to sports as the rest of the world. It doesn't mean we don't miss them.

In my idle time, I think about the sports I have missed the most. For all of us, the priorities will change. It's why the ice cream shops sell chocolate and vanilla, right?

  1. I miss the Olympics already. I covered 10 of them, and I loved every day. The anthems. The odd sports. The stories. The endless bus rides. I was the only American on the media bus that took us to a badminton match in China -- badminton is huge there -- and back. In Turin,I stood at a balcony with the survivor of a soccer team that died in a plane crash (he did not make the trip because of a pregnant wife) looking at the Olympic flame. I walked through a village made of igloos by fans in Norway).

2. The Final Four. No, it isn't what it used to be when things called "juniors" and "seniors" played college basketball. But as drama, it has never disappointed. There is nothing like the one-and-done of March Madness.

3. The stretch run toward the NHL playoffs. I won't mention the Stanley Cup, because I hope it is only delayed. But the intensifying season of the NHL in its final days seems to be at risk.

4. Opening Day. This is down on the list because, again, you hope there is an Opening Day to come. Who cares if it's on May 28 or June 3? I love baseball, as many of you do. Opening Day is more special to the ice-locked areas of our country than Florida, of course, because it represents renewal. But really, Opening Day is just the start of a long journey. Still, it will be nice to see it.

5. The Masters. If you walk the back nine in Augusta, if you hang out by the Eisenhower tree, if you take in the beauty of Amen Corner, you will understand why so many people want to be buried there. I'll be honest. Most Pro tours are played on gorgeous properties. But August is a Rembrandt in a hall of kids' art.

There are others. The OTA's of NFL teams. Spring training games. A tennis tournament here. A soccer match there. The beauty of sports is that it is ever-changing. It is a menu for our souls. We are not complete without it.

Soon, I pray, it will resume.

When it does, it will be delicious. Even better, it will be normal.

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