Don Mattingly chuckled Saturday afternoon over Zoom and said what everyone in sports is thinking these days.
“This is not what you dream of, playing with no one in the stands,” the Miami Marlins manager said from Philadelphia.
There’s nothing quite like a pandemic to make you appreciate everyday things taken for granted.
Like eating in a restaurant.
Like working at the office.
Like watching a game in person.
Or simply like watching a game at all, even on TV, which we’re now starting to do with some regularity.
“It’s an honor to say it — baseball is back,” Marlins television announcer Paul Severino said Friday night at the start of the broadcast, sitting in Marlins Park, socially distanced from partner Todd Hollandsworth, hundreds of miles from the Marlins’ opening win in Philadelphia.
Nothing’s normal. Everything’s changed. There were no fans at games, umpires wore masks behind their masks and players did the high-five with caps so as not to touch each other.
The only thing missing from this newly regimented world is players getting off the bus in uniforms, like for high-school games, rather than changing as they do in socially-distanced locker rooms.
But who cares?
Sports are back a little more, day by day, team by team. Enough is normal. You can see it from your couch on TV. And don’t touch that dial, unless it’s been sanitized, because after months of going without games they’re piling up now. The Marlins played in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, the same time as the Heat’s scrimmage against Utah tipped off.
Next Saturday the Marlins, Heat and Panthers all play games and the Dolphins practice. We’ve gone from nothing to everything. Drought to flood. Hallelujah. There’s sports to discuss again.
“Once you get into the game, and thinking, making decisions, that part is pretty normal,” Mattingly said of the Marlins opener. “That part is pretty normal. It’s just he fact no one’s here. After the game, it felt like the same game we played (two exhibitions) in Atlanta. It didn’t feel like an opening game with no one here — other than it counts.”
There’s news all across sports: The Panthers leave for Toronto on Sunday to start their world in a hockey bubble; New York Jets coach Adam Gase still hasn’t learned to talk with players, as his ongoing spat with safety Jamal Adams being what Dolphins insiders saw at the end of Gase’s time in Miami; and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the organization wants to use AmericanAirlines Arena as a voting site for the Presidential election.
“It would be fantastic for the city — we’re pushing for it and the ball’s in their court,” Spoelstra said on Zoom from Orlando. “That’s really something we hope we can get done.”
He then went out to coach the Heat against the Utah. The Heat start play for real next Saturday. Then come the playoffs, just as they will for the Panthers. Meanwhile, in a 60-game baseball season every game counts about three times the normal meaning, as Mattingly said, “There will be a lot of big moments that may not look like that in the stands, or sound like that, because no one’s there.”
“It takes away a lot of people screaming at you, especially here in Philly,” said Marlins reliever Brad Boxberger.
For the past four months, the first question about sports hasn’t been about sports. It’s been about the pandemic. It’s been if games will be played, where they’ll be played, how they’ll be governed, who will be allowed into arenas and stadiums and, quite simply, why they’re even playing amidst a pandemic.
Now it’s about whether the Marlins can win enough, the Heat have enough or the Panthers can do enough to get people interested. We’re back to looking at scores in sports right now, not just looking at whether sports can come back.
It’s not the same, games. But watching games at all is something to appreciate after the past four months. Finally, they’re back.
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