The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 31, 2020 1:00 am

Looking for a friend

Baseball lover misses familiar rituals lost to pandemic

STEVE WARDEN | For The Journal Gazette

Where are you, my baseball?

Where have you been hiding?

Are you tucked in that familiar back yard thatch of poison ivy where, like a spooked grounder, you'd often scurry? But then you would be joyously found, and the game would resume until nightfall, when the street lights would blink to signal the final inning. Are you beneath the weathered wooden fence where you'd occasionally disappear, or in the thicket of unruly grass we'd call right field? Are you in the neighbor's garden, hiding between furrows? Or has a stray dog taken you for his own?

Where are you?

I've searched everywhere, and you are nowhere to be found. That sweet pocket in my leather glove where I've kept you since childhood has an empty spot, much like my heart.

Tomorrow is June. You should know that. And yet you're far too late in your arrival. By now we have settled into what should have been the season, ready to hear your summer song, when through open screen doors the sounds of boys and girls playing two blocks away rival the wrens and the chickadees.

You have sadly forsaken April and May, those unpredictable early months when we welcome your return after a winter's gray slumber. Granted, some of those days were bitter and cold, but there were a few pleasant ones, too, when the sun kissed the earth and transformed it into a dazzling emerald once again. Those were the days we most longed for you.

Where have you been?

Where are you now?

There are those who suggest – nay, hope – that you may reappear soon. We shall see. If so, you will be welcomed with not only open arms but soaring hearts.

Unlike baseball's past absent moments of player strikes and turmoil, we know this wasn't your fault.

It is a virus that thrust you into the darkness; a rare worldwide pandemic that has kept friends and families and co-workers and, yes, baseball players of every stripe apart.

Of course, we cannot compare the absence of baseball – or any leisure activity, for that matter – to the loss of tens of thousands of souls and millions of jobs. COVID-19 has mercilessly cut short so many lives that began this year with hope and the innocence and adventures yet to be discovered. And the year has turned to ... this. If only we had 2020 vision.

Until now, “social distancing” meant guarding the line for a pull hitter.

Until now, only the catchers and umps wore masks.

Until now, a food line was nothing more than waiting 20-deep at the concession stand for a brat and a beer.

And Doc Gooden was better known than Dr. Fauci.

Who's on first? Absolutely no one.

From baseball's inception in the mid-1800s, the object all along was to be “safe at home.” Now that we all are exactly that – virtually ordered to be since mid-March – we can't wait to venture away from it.

Which brings us to where we began: somewhere out there is my baseball. Exactly when it will reappear remains as mysterious as how Gaylord Perry camouflaged his spitter or whether Ruth truly called his shot.

For the high school and college players, and even the Wildcatters, there will be no official season. However, there is earnest discussion from both Major League Baseball and the minors that the COVID-19 tarp will be pulled off the fields and we'll have our game return.

Meanwhile, we wait.

We wait for the familiar cry of “play ball!” We wait for the barking vendors who cruise up and down aisles. We wait for the little ones who rush to their dusty neighborhood diamonds for a pick-up game, where they will chant “Hey batta, batta, batta. SWING, batta!” We wait for the crack of the bat, the pop of the glove, the tip of the cap, the national anthem.

Soon, my lost baseball will return.

Steve Warden retired from The Journal Gazette after 51 years as a journalist. He is a former sports writer and columnist and spent his last years as a reporter in the Features department.

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