Twelve minutes. That’s how long it was from Julio Urias throwing the final pitch of the 2020 baseball season by Willy Adames, the Los Angeles Dodgers finally winning the championship befitting the sport’s dominant regular-season team the last decade, to Fox’s Kevin Burkhardt looking solemnly into the camera to tell us Justin Turner’s late-inning removal from Tuesday’s Game 6 of the World Series was due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Quite the window. You could have easily turned the TV off in that time, gone to bed and tried to ready for another bleary Wednesday unaware. Imagine what those people woke up to.
Then tell me, because to be honest, I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what we have here. The right or wrong, the good or bad, the OK and the shameful. And another cacophony this morning of people screaming that a gray picture is only black or white won’t help a one of us.
We have been doing this for seven months and we feel as close to the cliff as ever. We know so much more, we’ve adapted in so many healthy ways, but we’ve also exposed our selfishness, our flimsy resolve, how easily we’re misled, how unfailingly resilient our underbelly is.
Before the season, I said perhaps baseball could prove its most value to the country in failure to complete a season. It didn’t fail, but it did force a lot of looking within in the afterglow of Game 6. Even if, in its usual myriad incompetencies, it backed into it.
I long for those 12 minutes today. In those 12 minutes, we had something tangible to celebrate, unabashedly. Well, maybe slightly abashedly, if you’re the sort who — no hate, I get it — sees Mookie Betts race home from third on a grounder, bash his chest as a clinching home run pinballs around, and feels more anger for his former team than joy for him. The kid we watched grow from Greenville, who chose to leave, but who reminds maybe we should’ve been cheering harder for the people all along.
In those 12 minutes, we had another worthy champion alongside the juggernaut Lightning and the favored Lakers. We had 11,000-odd fans in the stands giving some needed life to the thing. We had another gangbusters October in a sport that still gets out of its own way when it counts. We had a victory.
And we had an honest-to-goodness baseball argument. A clear goat in Tampa manager (and beloved Terry Francona sparring partner) Kevin Cash, even if his decision to yank cruising ace Blake Snell in the sixth inning before a third run through the Dodgers order — which needed six pitches against reliever Nick Anderson to go from 1-0 down to 2-1 up — must be shared across the “seamlessly integrated” Rays organization.
“Well, yeah, I regret the decision because it didn’t work out,” Cash told reporters, as aware as anyone the top three of the LA lineup Snell couldn’t see again was 0-for-6 with six strikeouts against him Tuesday, and giddy to see him go.
Now? We hope Turner isn’t meekly saying the same thing weeks or months from now, the reason in his calculations just as meaningless because they went against him. The reason in baseball’s calculations to play Game 6 despite Monday test results showing up, according to ESPN, after first pitch. (After all, they were bubbled and hadn’t had a positive in two months, right?) More glory for the sport which will never do more than they think they need to to appease you, lest you forget they didn’t bother to patrol video rooms in the 2018 regular season after making a big show of tightening restrictions that March.
May that footage of the redbeard, a long way from the minor-league scrap heap LA plucked him off six years ago, back on the field with his teammates not be on a loop any day after today, suddenly newsworthy again. The shot of him kissing his wife, maskless. Full smile beaming, between the championship trophy and his manager, Dave Roberts, a lymphoma survivor who’d at least mulled the idea of skipping the season.
“He’s part of the team. Forget all that. He’s part of the team,” said Betts to reporters about Turner’s lack of isolation. “We’re not excluding him from anything.”
“Having a chance to take a picture with the trophy,” Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman said, “was incredibly important and meaningful to him.”
Every one of them owns whatever happens now. Every one. They know about Eduardo Rodriguez, who got clearance from doctors to walk on a treadmill something like three months after his COVID-19 diagnosis. They know about Freddie Freeman, whose Braves were largely vanquished by Betts’s glovework, and who said he prayed to be spared during his COVID-19 fight in July.
But, well, they’re only going to regret Tuesday if their decisions don’t work out. Numbers say they’ll probably be fine. Like Kevin Cash, they’re clinging to the process, if they even considered it. That is, ultimately, the bargain we’ve all had to make throughout this ordeal.
That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
When my father died last September — another Tuesday where I was sitting on my couch watching Mookie Betts play baseball, oddly — it was sudden, and it was shattering. Most notably for my mother, with whom he’d built a family and that imperfect lived-in comfort some of us chase our whole lives for almost 42 years.
For six months, she didn’t much leave the house. She raged. She cried. She refused invitation after invitation, demurring constantly to “next time.” We around her suggested volunteering, visiting, a vacation, therapy. Whatever we could think of to get her out of the house and around other people, with little success.
Then, pandemic. She couldn’t, she shouldn’t, and we shouldn’t either. Months more went by. The human brain is not meant for that much isolation, never mind one trying to grieve and not really knowing how. I felt her slipping. And so, I got in the car and drove to see her.
It’s a weekly thing now, often with my son. It has grown more relaxed and less distant as the months have gone on, as our vigilance has waned and the comfort of “well, it’ll probably be fine” takes hold. It helps him. It helps me. I believe in my heart it is helping to keep her going. I believe it’s the right thing.
But I know if she gets sick, the prognosis will be bleak. I know I will carry that forever, and I live with that every time I back out of the driveway on these trips, or when I hear of families still separated all these months into this crisis.
It all roiled through my brain, staring at the ceiling in the wee hours, as I thought about Turner and his teammates. The understandable and righteous din he, the Dodgers, and baseball will wear in the coming days and weeks. And that’s in a best-case scenario.
Some of it will be wrongheaded. Some of it will be embarrassingly reductionist and pandering. Some of it, a lot of us also should heed.
Washington closer Sean Doolittle drew a lot of headlines back in July when he railed against the rush to get back on the fields, and the seeming indifference of his sport to its players.
“We’re way worse off as a country then we were in March when we shut this thing down,” he said. “Sports are like the reward of a functioning society.”
His sport managed to function, in large part, because it became clear after early missteps within the Marlins and Cardinals that no player wanted to be the one to tank the season. That was certainly clear on Tuesday, when one player — with no more games to save — willingly put his entire team at risk, and that team essentially encouraged him.
I understand the desire to want to live in those 12 minutes. Perhaps you do too. Let’s hope the decisions made within and soon after them quickly fade, and we’re left with something worth cherishing in a year just about barren in that regard.
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