Awaiting Beards & Bellies

**Taps mic**

Is this thing on? Can you hear me? Okay, good. Let’s try this.

empty baseball field with sun rising
photo: Kristen Hudak

It’s been a while. In looking back at the archives of my musings on this website, I realized I hadn’t written anything since July of last year. That’s right before the abbreviated 60-game season began right in the midst of a pandemic that is still raging throughout the world. And now here we are again, with baseball, like the seasons, coming back into our lives. My absence in writing since then can only be chalked up to one phrase – “what else is there to say?”

Baseball decided to play a shortened season during one of the worst times in our history and it made everything feel a little less important. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series, which ended with one of their players celebrating on the field with his teammates having just contracted Covid-19. Do we even remember that? How bizarre that was? Failing to write more about the Orioles during these times isn’t something I even regret. I go back to the “what else is there to say” mantra. Nothing that the Orioles have done on the field is very consequential to what they hope to do in the coming years. They are basically in hibernation, much like the world has seemed to be in some ways.

Even thinking about the fact that they’ve traded players like José Iglesias or Alex Cobb in the last few months seems so pointless. These aren’t players that were going to be around for any kind of success in Baltimore. To that end, neither are veteran pitchers Félix Hernández and Matt Harvey. Worrying too much about the team’s stadium lease is also not going to help anything. In the midst of these economic times, none of the news surrounding that is even all that noteworthy to me. And let’s please not get started on farm system rankings. The fact that outlets like Baseball America have the Orioles’ list of prospects rated in the top ten while folks like Keith Law have them closer to 20th literally does not matter. None of these rankings mean a thing. They are projections based on a season that didn’t even happen throughout the minor leagues. We can all take solace in knowing that every “expert” has been wrong before and that prospect rankings and projections aren’t the end all be all. It’s the same reason they don’t just play the games on paper.

I used to have so many thoughts in my head about baseball and specifically the Orioles that writing blogs or columns or articles or whatever you might want to call this particular published piece of product (and I’ve heard them all) came so easily. I had to trim down what I’d write, because it would inevitably be too long each week. But nowadays, that’s just not the case. As an Orioles fan, it feels like we’re all in a holding pattern. We’re just waiting for (and for that matter hoping) the team to be good again. When that might be, is a mystery. It’s kind of like waiting for when life can go back to normal. No one knows when (or if) it truly ever will be.

I found myself, like I’m sure many others were, paying slightly less attention to the finer details of baseball over the last 12 months or so. I watched the games, but they didn’t feel the same. New rules and adapting to playing during a pandemic didn’t take anything away for me. It just made it all seem a little less important. A welcome distraction, sure. But also less important. But as the months roll on and baseball comes back around, I find myself once again getting those warm fuzzies that come with warmer temperatures being on the horizon. 

I’ve come to a better understanding though, that baseball for me is more about the relationships it builds and the stories it brings. Sure, winning is important. Even as an Orioles fan that’s still true. Greatness is also important. Seeing how many Hall of Famers have passed away over the last year has reminded me of that. But sharing tales of baseball, to me, is the most important thing. A new season just brings new opportunities for more of these stories to be built.

Writing these stories may become tougher, but sharing them is not. No matter how that’s done. I’ve done it a lot over the last year through Zoom calls with family, friends, and colleagues. I’ll continue to do it in that way as well. Eventually, going to a baseball game won’t seem like a ridiculous affair. And that day will be welcome. But until then, we’ll welcome pictures of beards and bellies from spring training and rush to our computers to crack jokes and find community there.

Baseball seems inevitable, like many things in life. Once mid-February rolls around, like it has, pitchers and catchers report. No matter how hard things are and how much we’re all going through, baseball somehow remains a constant. That’s what makes it so romantic and ever-present in our lives. No matter what the season is going to look like, spring brings hope. It brings a sense of renewal. A sense of rejuvenation. That’s something we can all get behind.

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