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Making sense of the emotions surrounding an Opening Day without baseball

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The Mets were supposed to begin play today, but instead an uncertain future awaits.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

At the time that this article is being published, I would, under normal circumstances, be on my way to Citi Field to watch the New York Mets kick off their season against the Washington Nationals. I would be on the Q12 bus riding from Little Neck down Northern Boulevard to Flushing, before hopping on the 7 train one stop to Mets-Willets Point. I would be meeting my friends and getting on line to enter at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. We would be picking up our magnetic schedule, taking our seats in section 506, and awaiting the official start of the 2020 baseball journey.

As everybody knows by now, these are not normal circumstances. Due to the coronavirus pandemic that is wreaking havoc in the United States and around the world, life as we know it has been anything but ordinary over the last few weeks, and the next few weeks—if not months—promise to be just as uncertain and difficult. While the first recorded case in the America dates back to January, the brunt of the impact has been felt this month.

The sports world was first affected when the NBA suspended its season on March 11 following Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis, and MLB followed suit the next day by pushing back Opening Day by two weeks. A few days later, the league pushed the start of the season back to mid-May at the earliest. And so, on March 26, 2020, at 1:10pm EDT, Citi Field will be quiet, the stands bereft of fans, the diamond playing host only to the whistling of the wind and the birds picking at the grass.

Before going any further, I’d like to take a very brief break from talking baseball to acknowledge the severity of the problem at hand. The troubles our country and nations across the globe are facing are a matter of life and death. In this moment, eradicating the coronavirus threat is more imperative than the return of baseball. There are countless healthcare professionals working around the clock to save people’s lives and doctors and scientists trying to understand the virus and find some way to combat it. On top of that, people have lost their jobs, their lone source of income, their livelihood in the wake of the shutdown, and people are struggling just to get by on a day-to-day basis. There are a number of real problems that people are facing.

Whether it’s mid-May, late June, July, or March 2021, baseball will return. We will go to the ballpark with our families and friends again. We will argue about insignificant stuff like pitching changes and players’ stats. We will feel joy over a Mets’ victory that, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t improve our lives. In many ways, mourning the delay, or even the eventual loss, of the 2020 baseball season seems selfish and wrong.

But it’s human nature, and I can’t help it. Baseball is an escape from reality, and we could all use a little escape from our current reality. It’s a way to throw yourself blindly into something you have no control over and get taken for a ride. Even when we feel miserable over the result of a Mets game, the misery is only temporary. The great Jerry Seinfeld so eloquently said at last year’s New York BBWAA dinner, “To me there are two things in this world: there’s life and there’s baseball, and one helps you get through the other.” What will we turn to now to help us get through life?

This year would have been my 14th consecutive Mets home opener. Since 2007, I have been at Shea Stadium and Citi Field every time the Mets began their season. I make a point of buying tickets the moment they go on sale. I put anything and everything on hold for Opening Day. I have skipped college classes and plenty of work days to join the 40,000-plus in celebrating the return of baseball. It is a tradition that I have shared with my wife and with many of my friends over the years. I have been counting down the months, the days, the hours, the minutes—seriously, since around January 1, I have been tracking the sluggish passage of time—until March 26, and I was looking forward to it after a particularly stressful period of work. Knowing that Opening Day was there was, in so many ways, a relief and a great comfort.

I treat Opening Day like a holiday. I cherish it more than most people cherish Christmas, with the game itself serving as the present to be unwrapped under the tree after a restless night of sleep. I love it so much that, last year, my wife and I traveled down to Washington D.C. to see the Mets open the season against the Nationals in our nation’s capital. It was a surreal experience and one I will hold on to forever, especially given the precariousness of the current baseball season.

Mets @ Nationals, Nationals Park, March 28 2019
Photo: Vasilis Drimalitis

Not having baseball to latch on to is tough, and none of us should have to apologize for feeling empty without it. Baseball provides us with a sense of normalcy in an abnormal world. Just the nature of the baseball schedule, stretched over the course of six months, is comforting in that it provides us with a tangible event happening every day. In any given year, I will make it out for about 20-30 games at Citi Field. I am in the process of visiting all 30 big league parks and had plans to hit up around three or four more in 2020. Having these moments to look ahead to on my calendar fills me with unspeakable joy. Without baseball, life feels like a rudderless ship and, while the ship might not necessarily veer off course and may still reach its destination, it won’t be smooth sailing.

And so, as we turn the calendar to March 26, instead of breaking down rosters, lineups, results, playoff potential, and endless possibilities, we are met with an unknown future without baseball. There are so many more important things to fixate on right now than when the Mets will return to inevitably disappoint us and, in rarer instances, excite us. In the coming weeks, we in New York and around the country and likely to remain sheltered in place for any number of weeks as the fight against coronavirus rages on, giving us plenty of time to catch up on TV shows, movies, books, and more.

Things will eventually begin to feel normal, but, at the same time, won’t feel quite so normal without baseball. The pomp and circumstance of Opening Day will be met with an unnerving quiet, and the spring weather be greeted only by the absence of America’s Pastime.

So we can still send our thoughts and our love to everyone around the country and the world fighting for their lives and the lives of others, but we should still take a moment to feel sad about the absence of baseball. It’s only human nature, and we’re only human. Today, moreso than any other day, we can acknowledge that not having baseball hurts, and we can let ourselves feel that loss.

Mets vs. Nationals, Citi Field, April 4 2019
Photo: Vasilis Drimalitis