Major League Baseball has had to cancel games before, each time due to strikes or lockouts generated from disagreements between players and owners. Even during World War II Americans continued to play ball, even though some of the league’s top players (Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio) were temporarily occupied on the battlefield.
2020 is the first baseball season that has been suspended due to a public health crisis.
Once spring training was halted prematurely on March 12, players dispersed, some in a flurry, others slow and steady, to their homes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘What am I supposed to do now? And for how long?’
Professional baseball players are wondering the same thing as everyone else.
Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers’ LHP who recovered from Tommy John surgery during most of the 2019 season, equates this time to being back in January mode.
“I’m mostly trying to put on some weight and build muscle, doing conditioning and flexibility training.”
Sort of like a Christmas in July, Suter, along with the rest of society, is still reeling from the topsy-turvy feeling of regression, or slow progress, or a “new normal” to coin a pandemic phrase.
Like other employees sequestered to their living rooms, Suter stays connected to his teammates through Zoom calls and texting. It’s inevitable, however, that something is lost in the translation. Especially when a team of players, whose primary language involves physical give and take, are limited to talking on a screen.
“It’s hard to miss the time with the teammates and coaches. We were just starting to get excited about the season, really gelling in the club house, and that’s all on hold right now.”
So many people can relate to being on hold. Graduations on hold. Family vacations on hold. Jobs on hold.
It’s important to remain optimistic, an area where Brent Suter exercises true command during baseball, Tommy John, and pandemic alike.
Perspective from Paul
He remains connected to teammates through a weekly virtual Bible study coordinated by the team’s chaplain. Aptly, they are studying the book of Philippians, a letter Paul wrote while imprisoned. Rather than feeling limited because of shackles, Paul asserts that “because I am in prison” he has been able to accomplish things he could not have done as a free man. He is embracing confinement as the radical place where God can truly express his power and his grace.
Suter has been able to maintain a similar perspective while experiencing the confinement of an uncertain baseball season.
“I’ve really been growing in patience, especially with our son Liam. There’s nothing else to do right now but stay home, so I’ve developed a good sense of being present with him.”
Confinement reduces life to its most basic level, to the real picture of what it means to be alive. Fatherhood has always been important. But never before has it migrated so seamlessly towards the nucleus of the home, when so many other activities and priorities have been stripped away.
Will baseball have a season in 2020?
There’s talk of moving towards a second spring training in June, opening day in July. Because of these murmurings, Suter started throwing bullpens again last week, the first time since March.
“I hope the season resumes — I go back and forth. We’re still learning about this virus, but I’m certainly hopeful it can resume.”
Additionally, players will have to agree with owners about when and if the season resumes. These talks are not only based on health and safety protocols, but also on financial arrangements.
Ultimately, the question remains: Who takes the hit for this economic shut down? Players? Owners? Everyone wants baseball, but baseball only happens because of deep pockets and sustaining resources.
Ironically, this is baseball’s first shut down that has not been powered by human disagreement. It will be interesting to see if baseball can retrieve its 2020 season in spite of the humans. If anything, that’s the most basic message this pandemic has given us.
“We can realize what a blessing it is to have a human community,” Suter remarks. “To hug people, to be in relationship with others. When it’s taken away, you realize maybe I was taking it for granted.”