I woke up Thursday morning feeling like a kid on Christmas.
Actually, no. That doesn’t quite cut it.
I woke up feeling like a kid who’d previously counted down the days to Dec. 25 just to find out Christmas had been postponed. There would be no presents. There would be no time spent with family. There would be no decorations or festivities. In fact, there would be no guarantee those things would come within the next 365 days.
But then, four months later, that same kid found out he was going to get to celebrate Christmas after all.
Thursday night, 266 days after Washington’s Daniel Hudson struck out Houston’s Michael Brantley in Game 7 of the World Series to give the Nationals their first title in franchise history, Major League Baseball finally returned.
We were greeted with an Opening Night two-pack to kick things off. The Nationals opened the 2020 MLB season by hosting the New York Yankees at 7 p.m. Three hours later, the Los Angeles Dodgers welcomed the rival San Francisco Giants to their home ballpark.
The holiday season finally came, but this time it was… different.
The stands at Nationals Park were completely barren. Dodger Stadium was littered with cardboard cutouts of fans. Fabricated audio soundbites — ranging from low chatter to quasi-fervent cheers and jeers — were pumped through the speakers in an effort to manufacture something that even slightly resembled a game day atmosphere.
The commentators for both games provided play-by-play and color from the comfort of their homes and studios rather than broadcast booths.
No, it wasn’t perfect. But it was still baseball. It was still the major leagues. And oh, what a gift it was.
Prior to Thursday, we’d been forced to go 133 consecutive days without seeing a regular season or playoff game in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB. According to Stats, Inc., that marked the longest span of time without a game being played by one of the four primary North American sports leagues since 1916-17.
I’ll admit it. When Max Scherzer hurled the first pitch of the night to Aaron Hicks, I got a little bit emotional. I couldn’t help myself.
It doesn’t take much detective work to come to the conclusion that the sports editor of The Covington News has a soft spot for sports. But while I can get amped up for just about any athletic event where score is kept, baseball holds a truly special place in my heart.
I’ve been consuming the sport since I could walk. I spent my summers parked in the navy seats inside Turner Field watching the Atlanta Braves. I spit seeds and filled out scorecards at my neighbor’s travel ball games. I devoured the written work of Tom Verducci and Jayson Stark, while coercing my parents to purchase subscriptions to MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV so I could glue my eyes to as many games in a night as possible.
In 2018, I took my obsession one step further. I earned an internship with MLB.com as an associate reporter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I spent six months brushing shoulders with the professional players and managers across the league I grew up idolizing. It was better than anything Santa could’ve pulled out of his bag.
Baseball is a way of life for me.
As we begin the 60-game sprint toward to the 2020 MLB postseason, there will be live baseball on our televisions nearly every day for the next three months. It’s a welcomed distraction in the midst of the tumult our country is facing. It will be a bizarre campaign unlike any other — one with no fans, a fraction of the games and 16 teams qualifying for the playoffs — but I’ll gladly take it.
My Christmas was delayed, but it was well worth the wait. I received the gift that will keep on giving the whole year.
Welcome back, baseball.
Mason Wittner is the sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mason_wittner.