THE MARSHALL PLAN: A welcome return of baseball

Culpeper Times columnist Marshall Conner

To say that this year has been an epic Dumpster fire would be an understatement. 

The range of emotions have been Shakespearean. 

In ourselves almost despising … happily, we can once again gaze upon baselines, pitchers’ mounds and green outfields … and our collective sad state, like the Lark at break of day arises. 

Optimism, my sports-yearning friends returns with a crack of the bat. Give me a half-full beer and peanuts. 

This week offers hope for better days (at least for me) barring some type of unforeseen disaster. 

Why the optimism? Well, you see there might be a trip to the Outer Banks — and it looks like there may be televised professional sports to watch. According to Major League Baseball, I will get to watch my beloved Nationals after a nasty summer of negotiations and uncertainty. 

The last time I saw the Nats they were spraying cerveza and having a grand time celebrating a World Series victory over the evil Houston Astros. I was drinking Dominican rum, smiling and dancing to Calma and Baby Shark. I miss those joyous days. 

However, just when you thought it was safe to watch baseball in a ballpark without fans — the Nationals inform us who is throwing out the first pitch. This Thursday’s opener will feature the star of infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci! 

Haven’t we seen enough of this guy? I must smile, Dr. Fauci reminds me of one of the two-fedora topped old-timers in the vintage Family Furniture commercials. He also reminds me of the late Yankee Hall of Famer and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, the spokesman for the Money Store commercials back in the 1980s. 

Strange associations aside, the doctor will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day for the Washington Nationals. The important part is we can watch baseball (albeit in its oddest form yet).    

A strange silence will haunt huge stadiums. The roar of the crowd, so foundational to live professional sports will be absent. The shared experience of cheering on your favorite team will be missed — the noise, smells and unfiltered tribalism.

Will these games still possess the same magic for fans? 

In some ways I have moved on from caring about professional sports as fervently as I have throughout my life. I have found a deeper love for fly-fishing, music, and family this year.   

Major League Soccer has had a rocky start with players testing positive for COVID-19 and postponements, but it is forging ahead with its “MLS is Back Tournament” being held at Walt Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. I liked D.C. United better when they played at RFK.   

The NBA is getting closer to restarting its 2019-20 season on July 30,  also at Walt Disney’s resort. All the league’s teams have started training camp ahead of seeded games to determine the final standings, a potential playoff play-in series and the standard four-round postseason, according to league officials. 

Next up is hockey. The National Hockey League, my favorite father-daughter bonding sport is scheduled to begin play on Aug. 3. The Capitals have what it takes to win another Stanley Cup and my daughter wants to see Tom Wilson dealing out a little five-knuckle medicine — that will help cure this land.      

Plans for college football remain elusive as of this week with many programs opting for canceled or abbreviated seasons. High school sports appear to be either canceled, postponed, moved or in question. 

These sports need to do their best to ensure the safety of its young athletes. My heart sinks when I think of all the hard work invested by young athletes for a chance at collegiate glory or a senior’s emotional last season.   

NFL? Who knows? Not even sure I care anymore. My team is currently being renamed while embroiled in a sex scandal. Maybe this is a chance to find a new team?  I mean it is till death do we part with home teams, right?  Maybe Dan Synder needs a breakup letter. 

Who am I kidding?

I will probably still cheer for the Washington Whatevers — I am a terminally loyal homer.    

I will tune in to the Nats broadcast on opening day from my luxurious kayak. I will be floating in Pamlico Sound. I will hum Baby Shark and hope for lots of homeruns as I cast. Good luck, Nationals!    

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