Wow! It’s finally baseball season. I was so pleased to turn to the Giants-Dodgers game last Thursday night. It capped the first day of Major League Baseball since the 2019 World Series in which the Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros in seven games. So the first game this year was in Washington where Dr. Fauci threw the honorary first pitch. It landed 20 feet to the right of the catcher. Poor guy, that film clip will live forever.
I suppose there are many reasons baseball means so much to so many of us. A woman where I was working at the time the Giants were winning the World Series every other year was one of the most dedicated fans I ever met. When the exciting 2010 season was over, she said, “Now there won’t be anything to do but listen to our spouses.” So there’s that.
This year, baseball is being taken as a sign of something normal in the midst of much that doesn’t seem normal at all. As a newsman said on TV, “I was glad to be upset that the Yankees won rather than upset about other things.” Ah, but there’s more to it than that.
With no fans present, Dodger Stadium was populated with cardboard cutouts of fans, some of them with more or less famous faces. I noticed one cardboard fan had the number 42 on his cap. That’s Jackie Robinson’s number. On April 15, 1947, Robinson took the field at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first black man in the major leagues. He was spit at, threatened with death and faced degrading remarks everywhere he went. A good many white folks believed black ball players didn’t matter no matter how good they were, while many of them in the Negro Leagues were better than their white counterparts in the Major Leagues. Now on April 15, every player in the Major Leagues wears number 42 as a reminder of Robinson’s triumph in breaking one of the chains that keep descendants of slaves in slavery.
At both the Giants-Dodger game and the one in Washington, D. C., all players knelt by a long Black Lives Matter ribbon during opening ceremonies. As the National Anthem was sung, Black players, white players and Latino players gave each other solemn glances. It would be hard to imagine baseball today without all of them. That seemingly sincere embodiment of brotherhood on the field was worth the long wait for the season to begin.
But the recent George Floyd protests made us aware of a lasting, ingrown, all but unconscious attitude that only white lives fully matter. Thousands upon thousands have suffered and died because this attitude lies deeply imbedded in our American soul.
During a commercial between innings I turned to the news and learned that COVID-19 is ravaging south Texas where they are so short of hospital beds and treatment supplies they are forming an “ethics committee” to determine whom to turn away because, given the limited help available, they are not likely to survive. This is a largely Spanish-speaking region of our country. The level of concern and care available in white communities seem not to be available there. This virus makes clear that Black, brown and very poor people’s lives matter less than others here in the United States. We read that similar situations are developing in Sonoma County. Along with the pall of sorrow in our midst, the human damage and suffering this causes affects us all with more widespread disease and higher costs.
For decades baseball has been involved in our nation’s ongoing struggle over race and inequality. So this season baseball is going to mean more to me than who wins the game. The Giants lost their opener to the Dodgers 8-1. Let’s face it, the Giants have a lousy team. But if we can look into, around, and behind the games and become part of the newly invigorated struggle for racial equality in our land, it will be a wonderful season.