Opening day

In January, which feels like oh so long ago, our plane home from Miami was delayed for four hours. Surface winds in Newark, we were told. The literature at the airport gift shops concerned true crime or fake crime or in between crime, Girl Chopped Up or Girl Flung From The Train, or Pieces Of Her by Karen Slaughter (this last one is an actual title that I won’t forget soon). None of that was for me. Instead, I bought us a baseball season preview. Then I spent the balance of the wait time, and most of the flight, circling desirable players. After the mess that was 2019, I knew I needed to find some good Cauliflowers for Hilary.

The Cauliflowers are Hilary’s ballplayers. They constitute the roster of her beloved rotisserie league baseball team. The fate of The Cauliflowers is not of small significance to her. A few years ago, her squad took the top prize, and I made her a poster of her sixteen best point-producers — Francisco Lindor was on there, as was Jose Altuve. It still hangs on the wall of her office at the University, alongside the history books and the 18th C. British literature.

There’s not going to be any rotisserie league season in 2020. We’ll be lucky if there’s any season at all. Until there’s a vaccine, it’s hard to imagine MLB encouraging thirty-five thousand sweaty customers to jam themselves into stadiums. Because baseball is as synonymous with spring for us as Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura, it feels like the calendar has failed to turn. Our team, as you surely know, is the San Francisco Giants, and we’ve had meaningful times in the house by McCovey Cove, singing along to “Lights” by Journey and cheering on Buster Posey. No high-fives for us, for awhile — in San Francisco, or anywhere else.

And while I am the notorious baseball fanatic around here, this has hit Hilary harder than it has hit me. She likes to watch the game every night. Part of that is her Ruthian emotional investment in her favorites, and her Cauliflowers, and the rhythm and regularity of the baseball season as it unfolds. But she’s also comforted by the sound of the crowd, and the feel of the blanket of summer as it hangs over the stadium, and the talented Mets and Giants broadcasters. She’ll watch spring training games from beginning to end; she’ll even cultivate a rooting interest in the outcome of exhibitions. We don’t follow any other sports — baseball is it, and our sudden deprivation has unnerved us both. During the worst days of chemotherapy, we always had baseball games to distract us from what was happening, even if they were just buzzing and cracking in the background.

As a salve in desperate times, MLB now allows fans to watch old games over their network. All fans were offered a guaranteed opening-day win: a famous victory drawn from the archive. Giants fans have been spoiled ever since Hilary took up the cause in 2009: she’s watched the team win three World Championships, each one more improbable than the last. That gave MLB a few famous options, and they offered us a rerun of the final game of the 2014 World Series — the game, as you may know, where Madison Bumgarner came out of the bullpen on short rest and carried the Giants across the wire. I don’t have the same recall for baseball that I do for popular music, but I remember everything that transpired that night. Hilary surely does, too. A game like that held no mystery for us.

So instead, we watched Game 7 of the 1952 World Series: Yanks vs. Dodgers, Mickey against the Duke. While I knew all of the names, I’d never seen any of those players in action. At one point in an early inning, I realized that everybody hugging a base was a Hall of Famer: Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Gil Hodges, who’d go on to win the Series as the manager of the Miracle Mets, in the batter’s box, facing down the great Allie Reynolds. (He was limited to a sacrifice fly, alas.) I’d never seen Ebbets Field, or Casey Stengel pacing the dugout, and I’d never heard Mel Allen or Red Barber call a game from beginning to end. The experience felt like something out of a dream: a step back in time at a moment when we’re all held in stasis. Baseball, for me, has always been a reason to live — if only to satisfy my ferocious curiosity about how Kluber will fare in Texas, how the Mets will cope with the absence of Thor, whether Bregman’s great year was a can-battering illusion, which version of Johnny Cueto we’re going to get on any given night, who’s on first. Whenever and wherever they say “play ball” again, we’re going to do our damnedest to be there.