March and April are the sports fan’s annual reward for enduring the doldrums of February. Just look at all the good stuff we have immediately ahead, in Boston and elsewhere.
NFL free agency begins March 18, meaning we’ll finally get real answers to that popular February parlor game, “Say, Want To Guess What Tom Brady Will Do, Since No One Has An Actual Clue?” That game got older faster than hopeful stories from Florida about whether Nate Eovaldi can be the Red Sox’ No. 2 starter. (I wrote one; he can’t.)
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament — at last, March Madness! — begins with the First Four March 17-18. The Red Sox begin their quest for 82 wins in Toronto March 26, with the home opener against the White Sox — the superior Sox this year — on April 2.
The women’s Final Four commences April 3 in New Orleans. The men’s version starts the next day in Atlanta. At many points during the men’s games that weekend, Jim Nantz will tell us, with that properly subdued reverence in his voice, that the Masters begins April 9 on CBS.
The Frozen Four, the most underrated great event in sports for my buck, drops the puck April 9 in Detroit. Patriots Day — the best single sports day on the calendar in any city — is April 20, with the Boston Marathon and the 11:05 a.m. first pitch of a Red Sox-Indians tilt. Then comes the NFL Draft in Las Vegas, beginning April 23.
And we didn’t even mention the Bruins and Celtics making their closing sprints toward the postseason.
That’s what is known as a cornucopia of sports riches, friends. March and April provide something worth anticipating for sports fans of just about any particular preference and passion.
And yet right now, as we juggle caution and paranoia about the chaos the virus Covid-19 is threatening to cause, I think not of the enjoyment we typically get from these events, but of the eerie logistics amid potential crisis.
Do you think there will be fans at any of them, if they go on at all?
I can’t stop thinking about what this would be like, especially now that smaller events than those listed are starting to take significant precautions. On Tuesday, the Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, scheduled to be played at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion, out of concern about the coronavirus’s spread.
Governing bodies and leaders across all sports are dealing with how they should handle well-attended events and whether they should be played in empty stadiums, if they’re not outright postponed or canceled. Officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., have banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people for the rest of the month. That decision affects three San Jose Sharks hockey games, including one against the Bruins March 21.
Major League Baseball officials have said they plan to open the regular season with fans in attendance, but acknowledged that the plan could change at any time.
ESPN reported that the NBA has a meeting scheduled Wednesday to discuss how to proceed. Celtics broadcaster Mike Gorman, during his weekly appearance on the “Toucher and Rich” radio program Tuesday, said what so many of us suspect.
I think we’re going to be playing games in empty arenas pretty soon,” Gorman said. “Sooner than people think.”
Gorman said he spoke with someone in the league office who told him the possibility is high that the regular season will conclude without fans in attendance.
“My concern level is high,” he said. “At the Celtic game the other night, a lot of people come walking by the table and they want to say nice things, which I’m very flattered by how long they’ve listened, and they stick out their hands to shake hands. I just don’t want to shake hands with anybody anymore. It’s nothing personal, but I’m just trying to cut down the odds of being the one who gets this thing.”
Gorman’s feelings are logical and probably pretty common right now. But even the thought of games without fans makes for an eerie scene. Would there be pregame introductions of the players during a Celtics game if there is no crowd to cheer or boo? Would they play “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth inning at Fenway? If David Pastrnak scored a hat trick, would there be any ballcaps landing on the Garden ice?
Such a scene is not totally unprecedented. The Orioles and White Sox played a crowdless game on April 29, 2015, because of civil unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, an African-American man who had been critically injured while in police custody, fell into a coma, and died. But that somber scenario was for just a single ballgame.
It’s hard to envision these events we’ve been anticipating — Opening Day, the Masters, the Final Four — played without crowds. But we might not have to envision it. We might see it unfold from afar, on our televisions and devices, from what we hope is the safety of our own homes. The boredom of February never looked so good.