Looking forward to when baseball matters again (because right now it doesn't)

Rob Bradford
March 18, 2020 - 10:59 pm

About halfway back from my drive out of Port Charlotte, Fla. on what would be the final night of spring training games for the Red Sox, I joined two of my friends — who had watched the Grapefruit League contest I had just finished broadcasting — for a mid-ride meal. This was just about an hour after soaking in a wave of news items I will never forget.

As the waitress came over, chit-chatting and slinging crab legs without a care in the world I still had the new reality behind my eyes. Tom Hanks. Rudy Goebert. The NBA. Flight restrictions. By the time the sixth inning rolled around this — not Domingo Tapia’s repertoire — became our broadcast.

My radio partner Will Flemming and I knew what we had just participated in wasn’t the norm, as the immediate offering of Clorox wipes from the engineer after the game would attest. That reality slowly burnt into my psyche. But judging by the reaction from those looking to sell us on some 11 p.m. dessert, the world clearly hadn’t changed for everyone. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was still a day or two ahead of the concern curve.

We didn’t get back to Fort Myers until about midnight and my flight home was the first one out of Southwest Florida International Airport, but I knew these new thoughts had to be documented. Hence, the column, “The 3 hours how that changed I view the Coronavirus crisis”.

A few hours later off I went to Terminal D, all the while strategizing how I was going to sterilize my airplane seat, the arm rests, the TV in front of me and perhaps the hooded disheveled gentleman in 20C. I was leaving baseball for what I thought was two days. What I didn’t know was that sport would be gone for longer than any of us could have ever imagine. Longer than any of us can still probably imagine.

Exactly a week later, I look back at it all and shake my head. What was I thinking? What was everyone thinking? What are we still thinking?

I can rail on the missteps by Major League Baseball, such as actually packing people in to watch the Red Sox that last spring training game. Or what they were thinking actually playing more games the next day.

I can roll my eyes at some of the Red Sox for continuing to high-five, sign autographs, ignore social distancing and lean on the mentality of “it’s hard because it’s what we do in baseball” even after formally being warned by a doctor just days before.

And I can continue to offer disgust at the image of that beer vendor who found more ways than I care to mention to make sure each and every one of his Charlotte Sports Park patrons got a dose of his DNA.

But while I’m doing that I better be in front of a mirror. I can now admit that I was as guilty as most of them. Much like the aforementioned parties, I believed baseball actually mattered.

In those two days leading up to the time capsule-worthy broadcast, too much of my time was about figuring out how interviews and coverage was possibly going to be executed under these new clubhouse restrictions. Thinking back, the idea of me begrudgingly going to the assigned interview area while passing a gaggle of minor-leaguers working out outside the JetBlue Park weight room — all about two feet apart — all seems so perfect misplaced.

In one week we went from stressing about clubhouse access, to wondering if the Red Sox’ trip to Seattle on April 9 might be in jeopardy, to getting our heads around perhaps playing exhibition games without fans, to surmising the real games could be played in empty ballparks, to thinking the regular-season delay would be just a couple of weeks.

Then there was the idea that teams were going to hang back at their respective spring training facilities, working out together. (Remember the Yankees’ well-intentioned proclamation that they were all going to stay in Tampa in order to hit the ground running when the season kicked in?)

And now there is present day.

The players are home. There is no semblance of spring training. The idea of playing games before June seems far-fetched. And the notion of not playing games before the All-Star break seems very realistic. And the guessing game when it comes to locking in on a return for the sport not only seems fruitless, but it has also become kind of off-putting.

What a difference seven days makes.

Media outlets are trying to find ways to keep the baseball conversation going. I’m trying to keep the baseball conversation going. But admit it, every time you see a story written or reported that hints at the kind of roster-building conversation that always dominates this time of year it seems out of place. For the first time in my life, it doesn’t seem right to be talking about baseball. And that is hard to fathom.

I do miss the stories. I do miss the games. I do miss the conversation and debate. Spring training was just starting to morph into meaningful moments and that meant real games weren’t far off. Such a dynamic seems so very unrealistic and unimportant now. 

We sit in our basements instead of press boxes. Exactly a week from the moment I captured video Alex Verdugo running sprints I filmed my dog (in slo-motion, nonetheless) racing across Crane Beach. And our days are unavoidably filled with conversations involving two things: coronavirus and Tom Brady. That is it. That is all. And that is how it will be for some time.

To think that just a few days ago we still thought there might be a Red Sox game in Toronto on March 26. Now we couldn’t legally drive up to stare at an empty Rogers Centre if we wanted to. 

There will be many more opportunities to write these sort of "How the world has changed" columns throughout the coming weeks and months. It does strike me, however, how these past few days have altered our view on such things as baseball games in ways that seemed unfathomable leading into last weekend.

Dig in. There will be no crab leg-slinging, passport-needing and baseball-playing for a good, long while. It might have started with that ride down I-75 a week ago, but has now morphed into becoming a road not found on any map.