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McFarling: Baseball’s annual day of hope takes on new meaning

McFarling: Baseball’s annual day of hope takes on new meaning

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Baltimore Orioles shortstop Jose Iglesias poses for photographers during an intrasquad game at training camp on Tuesday.

Baseball’s opening day is my favorite day of the year.

There are myriad reasons for this. It starts with the pageantry, the big crowds, the excitement. Then there’s the promise of six months of daily entertainment, so much content that you have the luxury of consuming — or not consuming, secure in the knowledge that there’s always tomorrow — as the spring turns to summer and summer steps aside for fall.

The last reason I love baseball’s opening day is corny and trite and nebulous, but it might be the most powerful: hope.

As the MLB season is set to begin Thursday night in Washington, hope is the only one of these things we still have. Teams are playing only 60 regular-season games, if they’re lucky, so we can forget the six months of constant entertainment. There won’t be any crowds, much less big ones. Pageantry? When you can hear the crack of the bat echo off empty seats in cavernous stadiums, you’ve pretty much ruled out pageantry.

But we all need to have hope. Not the normal kind of hope, where we dream that our team will lift the World Series trophy, although that’s fine to harbor, too.

No, the hope we all need to have is that they somehow get through this mini-season unscathed. We need to hope that this thing won’t get shut down, once again setting us back in our collective quest to return to more of the activities we all love.

The fact that baseball has even made it this far, to the cusp of its truncated season, is a bit of a miracle. Essentially, players and owners who can’t stand each other all hopped in a van together and drove straight into a hurricane.

When MLB announced on June 24 that baseball was coming back, the idea that they would even get to the starting line was met with justifiable skepticism from those inside the sport. Issues with testing — and positive tests — over the past few weeks threw more obstacles in the way.

But now comes the really hard part. Baseball is the first of the four major U.S. sports to return, and the others aren’t far behind. The NBA is scheduled to restart July 30. The NHL has targeted Aug. 1 for the start of its playoff qualifying rounds and round-robin tournament that will determine postseason seeding.

The NBA is playing in a bubble in Florida. The NHL will compete in two Canadian hub cities. Baseball players? They’ll be traveling much as they normally do, albeit in a pared-down, regionalized schedule.

The possibility of a fiasco is obvious. In the middle of a pandemic, can these guys even make it a week? A month?

We have to hope.

To reach the end of the season, baseball will have to get very, very lucky. But beyond that, the players and team staffers will have to be unusually selfless and vigilant.

Set aside the on-field habits that are difficult to break — the spitting, the high-fiving, the backside slapping — because they’re far less important than the decisions the players will make once the cameras go dark.

Will they have the discipline to wear masks when they make a food run near their homes? Will they be willing to stay primarily in their hotel rooms on the road? Will young men accustomed to the trappings of wealth and celebrity be willing to socially distance away from the diamond out of respect for their colleagues?

We have to hope.

All this has little to do with whether you’re a baseball fan. If you’re bummed that there likely won’t be high school football in Virginia this fall, you have to hope this works. If you have a son or daughter in the marching band, you have to hope.

If you want to see college football again, or go to the movies, or eat inside at your favorite restaurants, you should be hoping for a positive outcome with MLB. We don’t need any more national-scale setbacks than we’ve already had.

Play ball, boys. And please play it as safely as you can.

We’re all hoping for the best.

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