As Thanksgiving approaches this year, many of our friends and families are weathering some of the most difficult seasons they have ever faced. This year has been full of so much loss and so much uncertainty. Gratitude, understandably, has seemed pretty hard to come by in 2020.
To be sure there were many tragic circumstances - losses of relationships, employment, financial security, and even life. As well, there were other relatively trivial losses, but those that were still painful and worthy of grieving. For the baseball community the cancellations of seasons from Little League to the MLB in the spring were particularly hard pills to swallow because the shutdown happened just as the players, coaches, and fans were getting started.
Sometimes there are years when we look around and see an embarrassment of riches. Some years - and I imagine for most 2020 will be one of them - it takes a little more effort to find blessings among the burdens. I have found in my half century on this planet, that sometimes in the most difficult periods of our lives, we are able to recognize extraordinary gifts that we might have dismissed as ordinary occurrences in more abundant seasons.
Baseball has always brought me cheerful moments. Those moments were definitely fewer this year, but there's no doubt that they were there. I had to open my eyes and my heart a little wider to see them, but I found some pretty special gifts in the midst of the madness of 2020. Here are some of my favorite moments from the baseball season that almost wasn't.
1. A Magical Photo Op at the Ballpark
The NVTBL fall season looked different this year, but the league did an amazing job of implementing measures to keep the players safe. For the teams that were lucky enough to play, it turned out to be a very successful season. One evening, only a few days before Halloween, my son had an NVTBL game scheduled for 8:00 pm. It was the kind of night that made me want to put on my pjs by 7:00 and curl up on the couch, but I headed to the game anyway.
The air was damp and cold. The game seemed to move incredibly slow that night. In the latter innings, my back started to ache. As it became darker and cooler, I was wishing for quicker outs. Then suddenly, a little Halloween magic happened.
Fog rolled in and the players were shrouded in an eerie mist. They looked like ghosts and I wondered if Shoeless Joe Jackson was going to emerge from the outfield.
I forgot all about my complaints for a few minutes and snapped some pretty cool photos. I was reminded that sometimes if you just take a minute to shut off the negative voices in your head and open your exhausted eyes, you might see something pretty extraordinary in an ordinary place.
2. The Northern Virginia College League
College baseball players had barely played for a month when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the season. As they returned home to take classes online and work out in their basements, most of them watched their summer league plans disappear as well.
Enter a few good folks from Northern Virginia who pulled together a league of eight teams made up of some of the best college players in and around our area. Strict protocols were put in place for safety of players, coaches, and fans. The season went on without a hitch and ended with the first ever champions crowned by the Northern Virginia College League.
Due to the persistence and dedication of the baseball community leaders in Nova, the boys of summer and their fans were given a chance to get back to the ballpark. I guess you could say there was joy in Mudville again for a few weeks this summer.
3. A Lesson in Letting Go
The pandemic has forced many of us to rethink some things. We've had to reevaluate the importance we placed on certain activities of our former lives. We've had to learn to let go. This year I'm grateful for the fact that I let go of any semblance of caring about getting stains out of my son's pants.
Dear Reader, I assure you that the above photo features a pair of freshly laundered pants straight out of the ol' Maytag. They have gone through a full wash with your basic garden-variety Tide detergent. However, there was no Shouting it out, no scrubbing with a Fels-Naptha bar, no bleaching, and no Oxi-Cleaning.
I have zero shame about the state of those baseball pants. Five years ago the thought that a mama might send her kid to begin a game in those things would have made me clutch my pearls in horror. This year? Not so much.
I'm not saying that next season won't bring yours truly a renewed sense of focus on stain removal. All I'm saying is that in the Fall of 2020, my mantra was, "Ain't nobody got time for that."
4. The Craziest Play I've Ever Seen
We held our breath all the way through April, May, June, and most of July hoping that the MLB would figure out a way to bring the professional game back to us. We didn't ask for much. We let go of any hope that we could attend in person. We didn't even care if our favorite teams weren't that good (I'm looking at you, Washington Nationals.) We just wanted them on TV. We got used to the piped in crowd noise and even felt less and less creeped out by the weird cutouts in the stands. We just wanted baseball. Any kind of baseball.
Then in game 4 of the World Series, in perfect 2020 style, the Rays gave us this:
and especially, this:
I'm not sure I've seen a more bananas baseball play in my whole life. And if seeing a grown man "airplane-ing" around the outfield while being chased by other grown men didn't bring you a least a tiny bit of joy, then you might be dead inside. Thank you, Rays. In the words of the airplane guy, "Man, baseball's fun."
5. An Early Morning Sunrise
My kid works out at an indoor baseball facility four mornings a week at 7:00 am. My kid does not have a driver's license. That means I have to set the coffee pot for really early and I have to get in my car when it's cold and I have to drive him over there - sometimes in my pjs. I've driven to this facility so many times over the years that I could do it with my eyes closed. But it's a good thing I don't. Because then I'd miss this every time.
Earlier this year as March turned into April and the news about the virus and the shutdown of sports continued to get worse and worse, I heard author Shauna Niequist say this:
"The circumstances of our life will not always line up for happiness and joy. We are responsible for being on the lookout all the time for joy, for gratitude. Life has gotten difficult enough for me in the last couple of seasons where I am aggressively hunting for reasons to be joyful and thankful every day. There are always challenges. We are responsible for being on the hunt for beauty and goodness and hope and joy all the time. That's our job."
2020 might have made the search for things to be thankful for more difficult than ever before, but it's still our job to keep searching. I've found that it's worth the effort. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to write in this space and for all the players, coaches, families, and friends of the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League who stop by to read. Happy Thanksgiving, Baseball Fans. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and great success as you go out to aggressively hunt for joy.