I wake up the morning of July 23, 2020, with a feeling of anticipation, one I haven’t experienced in over four months. The sun is shining – it’s been a beautifully hot summer in my part of the world so far, but I haven’t been appreciating it enough, as days turned into weeks without my usual baseball routine in place. I’ve taken the next two days off work, giving myself a nice long four-day weekend. I feel light and optimistic for the first time in what seems like forever, for today, my 39th Opening Day as a baseball fan, there is finally something to look forward to.
BASEBALL IS BACK.
— Gail Johnson ?? (@GJOH29) July 23, 2020
As I get ready for the day and have some light-hearted fun on social media, I think about how the last four months feel more like four years, and how, like most people, my perspective on life and the game has been altered forever.
Four Things I Learned During Baseball’s Hiatus
1. I love this game on a much deeper level more than I ever realized – with every fiber of my being.
I’ve written before about how baseball has saved my life, and as anyone who can relate to that statement knows, what that actually means is the hope and joy it brings me has given me something to cling to and look forward to in this sometimes heartbreaking, often busy world. I’ve always known I was blessed; to be in this unique situation of having found my identity mid-life, as a Dodgers fan. Within it I have formed friendships, tapped into my creative side by expressing thoughts that 8 years ago I’d ever have dreamed sharing with the world, and had a heck of a good time doing it. Often, I would just be sitting on my couch watching a game on some random Thursday night mid-season, close my eyes and smile.
Dodgers baseball, truly nothing like it.
Then, losing it so suddenly brought all of those previously held beliefs to a higher level. After surviving tremendous personal loss last summer, I felt I had come out stronger on the other side and was looking forward to this upcoming season with renewed hope. I was in a good place personally and professionally. Then, the weekend of March 14 ascended upon us and like much of the world, I went from thriving to surviving very quickly. The absence of what had set my soul on fire for the last seven years left me searching unsuccessfully for something to take its place…though I’m not sure such a thing or person even exists. It simply means the world to me.
— Gail Johnson ?? (@GJOH29) May 20, 2020
2. The Dodgers truly are a world-class organization
It’s easy to overlook if it’s what we’re accustomed to, but we’re fortunate – I don’t know of another organization that made the effort to keep its fans in touch with players and personalities via Zoom calls and social media outlets the way the Dodgers did. We employ first-class individuals, and most notably, a broadcast team who used the hiatus to produce a podcast that was by far its highlight.
I was at an emotional low point on an otherwise beautiful Saturday night here in my corner of the world and decided to take a walk and listen to the latest episode of “Off Air with Joe and Orel.” As I walked and heard their voices, I laughed and I cried – their camaraderie and clear respect for each other is a treasure – and somehow gave me hope that whatever was going to happen, we were all in this together. Baseball has been that source of hope and happiness for me for many years now, and the people who surround us in this organization are no different than you or me in that they were missing the game that defined a big part of who they were.
As Joe himself so perfectly put it…
“The more time that goes by, the more I realize how much I love baseball. I knew I love it, but I’m beginning to fully appreciate just how much it means to me”
…and for this fan, staying connected to such a classy organization helped make the dark times of April, May and June just a little bit brighter.
The more time that goes by, the more I realize how much I love baseball. I knew I loved it, but I'm beginning to fully appreciate just how much it means to me.
— Joe Davis (@Joe_Davis) May 22, 2020
3. My Dodger friendships are real.
Who knew that a natural introvert in her late 40’s could become friends with and relate to mostly younger dudes in their 20’s and 30’s? I realize how lucky I am to have been able to stay connected to the game and the community through my buddies at Dodgers Nation and became more grateful than I already was for the camaraderie I’ve formed with them over the last few years, so much so that getting on a late night (to me) Zoom call with them and stumping them with Dodgers trivia quickly became one of the bright spots of the early days of the pandemic.
And speaking of Zoom, on Good Friday, still emotionally numb from the state of the world, I had installed the previously unheard of app and got on a chat with Jeff Snider and some other Dodger Twitter folks, talking life in general – our love of the Dodgers the one common thread. As attendance on the call thinned out, eventually it was just him, Brian Robitaille and I, chatting and reminiscing about on-field moments over the years. Dodger baseball brought us together and as in life, terrible tragedies can bring you even closer, and I believe that’s what’s happened here. As well, over the forced hiatus, I found myself missing things I never thought I’d miss about the Dodgers community, like people arguing on Twitter about Dave Roberts, people complaining about the lineup (and Dave Roberts), and Dave Roberts’ sometimes questionable on-field decisions.
4. I can live without baseball — I just don’t want to.
I think it’s fair to see that I’ve become known as an optimistic Dodgers fan, and the reasons for that are simple: the world can be a dark enough place; I feel that baseball, with all of the emotional pitfalls that come with it, shouldn’t be one of the dark spots. I mean, of course, losing streaks are distressing and there are few things I dislike more than Clayton giving up homers, but the sport, this beloved team we follow, this is my escape from the real-world problems. With that constant taken away, I found it a struggle to define who I am, where my hope lies. Every year when the Dodgers get eliminated, I go through a short period of mourning where I question why I put myself through so much emotional grief for a sport, then I soon realize and embrace the fact that this is who I am, and that where there is great love there is always the possibility of heartbreak. So who exactly am I without it? I didn’t know, and I sure wasn’t prepared to find out.
As our province slowly opened after the initial pandemic lockdown, and we were able to expand our “bubble” to friends and family, I sat with an old friend on what was the sixth anniversary of Josh Beckett’s no-hitter and pondered the passing of time. It occurred to me that evening that since that sunny Sunday afternoon in May 2014 when I first subscribed to MLB.tv to catch the last 2/3 of that game (and never looked back), just how much life can change in six years.
Between my friend and me during that time, we have experienced illness, job loss, marital separation, surgery, first-time homeownership, old love reignited then lost again, new careers in our 40’s, the death of a parent, children growing, friends coming and going. And during that time, the one and only constant for me has been Dodgers baseball. There for me in the dark times, and the sheer joy, excitement, and life-defining memories that it has brought me making up a huge part of the good. Life was continuing to go on, somehow, but it sure didn’t feel the same without that constant and the routine and comfort it brought.
Over the last several months of uncertainty, people reverted to things that made them feel safe and secure; someone on social media pointed out that watching old TV shows – and knowing how they will eventually end – is somehow comforting in uncertain times. My friend Jennifer tried shutting her mind off to the woes of the world, and once her kids were all settled for the night, she proceeded to watch all 17 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. To borrow a great line that classic drama, as Meredith says to Derek after they’d reconciled after being apart for some time:
“I can live without you. But I don’t want to. I don’t ever want to.”
So now – and for now at least – baseball is back and like we’ve never seen it before.
Will we appreciate a 60-game season a little more, knowing each game has more than twice the amount of urgency as previous seasons (2.7 according to some pundits), and knowing that like anything we love, it can all be taken away from us at a moment’s notice.
Will the rule changes turn the casual fan away? Time will tell. No, the 2020 season will not be normal, but I don’t know of anything that is exactly the same today as it was on March 10, but for better or for worse, this will be a year and a season that will be talked about long after all of us is gone.
It’s natural to have doubts – nothing about 2020 has been normal or stable to this point, and the embarrassing union negotiations and incompetent league leadership will do damage to the sport that will resonate for years to come – but I choose optimism over the only other choices, and I can tell you in all certainty that it feels much better to have doubts about Cody Bellinger’s new swing or the status of Clayton Kershaw’s back or fastball velocity than it does to wake up each day worried that our world will never quite recover and that we’ll never go back to our pre-pandemic age of innocence.
So yes, life in 2020 has continued to teach us the hard lessons, and I’ve been reminded once again that I can survive anything, which means that sure — when given no other choice — I can live without my beloved Dodgers.
But I really, really don’t want to.