By Chris Hrabe
It’s been exactly one year since everything changed.
One year ago, I flew back from spring training in Florida. That night, while I was unpacking, the Thunder and Jazz game was postponed. Later that night, the Mavericks and Nuggets would finish their game while everyone in the arena was glued to their phones, reading about what was unfolding, how the brakes were being deployed by the NBA in an unprecedented decision by Adam Silver.
If only we knew.
The next day, the PGA Tour would play the first round at The Players Championship while everything else came to a halt. There was talk of finishing without fans over the weekend. That seemed drastic. The tournament never got further than that first round. That seemed even more drastic. If only we knew.
It seemed unfathomable to discuss playing the NCAA Tournament without fans. It seemed even more unfathomable to not play the tournament at all. If only we knew.
We waited, and waited. Learned Zoom, or, are still learning Zoom. Things moved slower than any of us liked, especially when it came to sports. If only we knew.
I don’t need to recap what has happened to bring us to today, one year later. The Players Championship will begin again today, and I’m grateful as a golf fan for the fact that fans will indeed be in attendance.
There’s still plenty, maybe almost everything, that I don’t know, and that we might not ever understand. But I’d like to think that at least from a sports perspective, I know a little bit more than I knew on March 11, 2020. So here goes.
I know that a rain delay isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, a rain delay will at some point, eventually, give way to sunny skies, Diamond Dry, and the teams trotting back onto the field. It could always be worse.
And while we’re at it, I’m not worried about pace of play anymore. Too short, too long, too medium-ish (I wonder who ever complained about that?) … It doesn’t matter. Pace of play means there’s PLAY! I won’t complain about the length of any game, no matter what, at least for now…
I know that rule changes aren’t always the worst, but also aren’t always the only solution to something that might not be broken. Maybe there’s some middle ground. I hope some of the rule changes we saw implemented across sports after the respective restarts last year lead to some improvements, or at least some discussion and open-mindedness, whether you’re a traditionalist, analytically-inclined, or somewhere in between.
I know that sports can exist without fans, even in a bubble, but fans always make them better. I know I’ll appreciate every game, every inning, every halftime, every overpriced soda, popcorn or beer.
I know that even though I’m not sure I’ve eaten a hot dog in the last calendar year, I’ll have 4 or 5 the first time I’m attending a game as a fan. And I won’t get angry about what anyone chooses to put on their hot dog. By all means, use your imagination! We’re at a game!
I know that I missed the daily chats that help set the metronome of our daily lives. I missed the fact that in any city I’ve ever spent time in, regardless of size or time of year, you can walk down the street or flip on a radio, and know exactly where the calendar is based on what everyone is mad about, or happy about, but usually mad about!
I know I’ve missed so much, and I’ll continue to think of things I even MISSED that I missed. Apologies to all of the ballpark food I neglected. And I know I hope we never have to miss anything like this again.
But more than anything else, I know I missed the people.
The way sports bring us together, when we couldn’t have possibly imagined the bonds it can help create and define.
The way people who might otherwise not have anything in the world in common, can become best of friends, at least until the next season rolls around, and their rooting interests become unaligned for a few months, thanks to a different set of allegiances, with a different background story.
I’ve missed the people, and I won’t take that for granted again.
I might forget my oath and still curse a rain delay, or get frustrated about something silly. In fact, I know I will.
But I’ll be grumbling to you, and you’ll be grumbling back. Then, we’ll wait out the rain, and watch the sun peek through the clouds.
Actually, more than anything else, I know that there will always be clouds. And some clouds, and some rain delays, will last longer than others.
But when the clouds break, I know that someone, somewhere, will yell ‘Play Ball!’
And I know that’s something I’ll never take for granted. And I know you won’t either.