Thanksgiving in a Time of Pandemic

For the first time in about 100 years the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the middle of a health pandemic. While the last pandemic was centered on the Spanish Influenza, this year’s uncomfortable guest at the dinner table is COVID-19.

COVID-19 is like that distant relative that no one really remembers how they are related to, yet can’t wait to get away from each year at the big family gathering. Like that distant relative, COVID-19 also has a way of showing up when least expected.

Depending on one’s political and scientific leanings, they either believe that COVID-19 is something horrible, or they think that it is a myth created by the same people who invented one sentence proverbs inside folded cookies.

No doubt people on both sides of the political COVID-19 spectrum will argue their case until their faces are redder then canned cranberry sauce during Thanksgiving meals together. After all, one of the things people are often thankful about on Thanksgiving is the right to have their own opinions.

As a former Boy Scout I was taught to always be prepared regardless of the situation. As the son of a mother who believes ham is not a Thanksgiving meat, I always keep an emergency ham in the freezer.
Photo R. Anderson

The way those arguments will occur will vary this year. Some people will have large in person gatherings as in years past, others will have smaller gatherings, and others still will have virtual gatherings using video conferencing software.

While there will be plenty of arguments about COVID-19 protocols and government overreach at the dinner tables across the country tomorrow, there will also be people who will spend the holiday alone because their families are either unable to join them, or in some cases because a family member passed away over the course of the year.

While this will not be a typical Thanksgiving for many people, that does not mean that there aren’t things to be thankful for.

One of the biggest things I am thankful for this year is my health, the health of my family and loved ones, as well as the fact that I have a job that thus far has proven to be pandemic proof; which means I have the resources to put food on the table.

The pilgrim narrative of coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts to avoid religious persecution and forming a thriving colony despite odds stacked against them, and huge death tolls, is something many of us were taught in school. The reality of that event differs slightly from the Norman Rockwell meets Thomas Kincaid narrative, but nonetheless people came, they gave thanks at some point, and they stayed.

On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation.
Photo R. Anderson

While Thanksgiving is often portrayed as something coming out of a land of the pilgrim’s pride and unity, it actually became a holiday much, much later during a time of huge division within the United States. On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation that said:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

The first Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 was set aside as a time to care for those in strive. Fast forward 157 years, and we are still a divided nation with many people in strive. The current strive does not come from a physical war, but from the economic and medical side effects of a response, or in some cases, lack of response to a health crisis.

Sadly, more and more people each day are losing their health, their jobs, and their ability to put food on the table for their families. It is incomprehensible that the richest nation in the world has so many people with food insecurity who wonder where their next meal will come from.

I am so grateful for the various food banks and other organizations that work around the clock to ensure that people are able to provide food for their families. I am also ashamed personally at how little I have helped in that cause despite having been blessed with so many resources myself.

But, while I am grateful for those organizations, I am also angered by the fact that so many people are in a position where they have to utilize those services. In many cases people are having to go to a food bank for the first time in their life.

Ensuring that people have food to eat should not be a political thing. It should not matter whether a person votes blue, red, or purple. We are all the same on the inside and we all require food to survive. The sooner people realize that, the better society will be as a whole.

Years ago when I worked for a weekly newspaper, I had the opportunity to write a feature on a food bank that was set up in an old rice drying silo. Sadly, the food bank burned down a few years ago since rice silos are extremely flammable. While that food bank is gone, there are thousands of organizations across the United States handing out help to those in need, as well as looking for help from those wanting to help those in need.

If watching Hallmark movies nonstop for the past four weeks has taught me anything it is that a) there are only three plots to Hallmark movies that are recycled again and again b) every town needs a gazebo and a decent Christmas tree farm c) no one ever takes anything with them when they move away from their parents’ house since their rooms are basically sealed off as a time capsule for them to return to after their big city boyfriends dump them and d) every one pitches in to help when the town needs them.

While I am certainly glad that the world has more depth then a Hallmark movie, the concept of chipping in and helping each other in tough times is one trait in those movies we should all want to immolate. Another trait being installing hot chocolate stands everywhere.

Although a staple of many Thanksgiving feasts today, it is doubtful that turkey was on the table at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving. Instead, fish was likely the protein on the pilgrim’s plates.
Photo R. Anderson

The first settlers in the new world had to rely on themselves and their Native American neighbors in order to make what we now know as the United States of America successful.

Of course, once a beachhead was established and more settlers came, the Native Americans were treated horrifically. Additionally, slavery is another shameful stain on the whole democracy and all men are created equal thing that we all ascribe to as part of the American ideal.

So yes, there are so messed up, horrible examples of Americans being absolutely brutal to each other and those around them dating back to even before there was an America. Those chapters in the history books often get glossed over in favor of the happier narrative. And in the years to come the era of job losses and food insecurity that is happening right now in the middle of a health pandemic may be rewritten to try to put a more positive spin on things, versus showing America once again as the divided along ideological lines, flawed experiment in democracy that it is from time to time.

However, while we are in the middle of this mess, there are people wondering where their next meal will come from and how they will pay bills without a job. Let the historians figure out what lens they want to use at a later date to describe the last four years as well as the four years to come. For now, there is chance for people to act like those larger than life characters the history books teach about, instead of the flawed, divided founding fathers they were in reality.

Thanksgiving is upon us and there is much to be thankful for. There is also much left to do to ensure that everyone has a Thanksgiving to remember, even if that means having to wait 50 days to kick the crazy uncle with those wacky theories out of the house.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to figure out a way to help a food bank.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Editor’s Note: For anyone wanting to help out with a food bank, or for anyone needing the services of a food bank, they can visit FeedingAmerica.org for details on food banks in their area.

Astros Making Sugar Land Skeeters a Farm Club Proves Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was a senior in high school, I memorized the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” as part of an English assignment. In the years since, I have often referred back to that poem during times when things I considered golden in my life became tarnished, or lost some shine.

Such was the case when I learned that the Houston Astros were nearing a deal to make the Sugar Land Skeeters their AAA farm team. As part of the deal, the Astros will own all or part of the Skeeters.

On the surface the idea that the Sugar Land Skeeters are leaving independent baseball and becoming an affiliated team should be good news. But when one digs deeper, they realize that all of the things that made the Skeeters appealing could be taken away as part of the larger effort to give Major League Baseball absolute control of the Minor Leagues.

As part of a massive realignment of Minor League Baseball the Sugar Land Skeeters are slated to go from an independent team in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball to the AAA Affiliate of the Houston Astros starting in the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

The desire for the Astros to keep their AAA team close to the big-league club follows a trend other clubs have followed over the past decade or so.

In fact, in 2013 when the Astros AAA club was based in Oklahoma City there were rumblings that the Astros wanted to relocate a team to the Woodlands, north of Houston to “expand the brand” and “counter moves made by the Texas Rangers,” according to Astros officials at the time.

Fast forward seven years and buying into the ownership of an existing team with a Ballpark is certainly easier than building one from scratch. The Skeeters would join the Astros owned AA affiliate Corpus Christi Hooks as Texas based feeder teams.

The Texas Rangers will likely move their AAA team back to Round Rock, which the Astros are vacating to move to Sugar Land. In the event that the Rangers move back to Round Rock they would join the Astros in having their AA and AAA teams located within the Lone Star State since the Rangers AA farm club is the Frisco Rough Riders.

I have written extensively this year about how I went from a supporter of the Astros to a former fan who wants nothing to do with them as a result of their trash can cheating scandal. But, if any of the other 29 MLB teams were buying into the Skeeters, I would be equally sad.

To be absolutely clear, although I despise what the Astros organization represents based in part on the lack of sincerity in their apologies for the cheating scandal, I would be sad at the thought of the Skeeters changing from independent to affiliated ball regardless of what team they were affiliated with. The fact that it is the Astros just makes it hurt a bit more.

With the exception of the pandemic year of 2020, I have been a fixture at Skeeters games since the team arose out of the former sugar cane fields in 2012. As mentioned, many times before, if Sugar Land was located just a few miles closer to the Gigaplex I likely would have been a season ticket holder and spent most spring and summer evenings at Constellation Field watching the Skeeters.

For the majority of my baseball loving life I have preferred attending Minor League Baseball to Major League Baseball. There is just something about a Minor League game that cannot be matched at the Major League level.

Much like a face palming mascot named Swatson, the news that the Houston Astros were going to be involved with the Sugar Land Skeeters caused my head to shake and my palm to be planted firmly on my forehead. It also reminded me of the words I memorized years ago that nothing gold can stay.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of the charm of going to see the Skeeters play was the fact that tickets and concessions were reasonably priced and the action on the field involved former MLB players as well as people who were trying to continue their careers for just a little bit longer.

As an affiliated Astros club, I fear that the owner of the Astros who famously said in the middle of a pandemic that he wanted fans in the stands so he could sell them “beer and t-shirts” will likely not keep the prices as low as they had been on the current regime. Of course, Skeeters tickets will hopefully still be cheaper than Astros tickets but Goliath has definitely defeated David in this example.

Based on the amount of people who wore Astros gear to Skeeters games, I know that I am likely in the minority when it comes to being sad that the era of Skeeters as I knew them is likely coming to a close. There is likely social distanced dancing in the streets at the news that the Astros will have their AAA team a mere 27 miles or so away from Minute Maid Park.

They may even try to make the Skeeters Ballpark, Constellation Field, look like a mini Minute Maid Park. Of course, the city of Sugar Land owns Constellation Field so they would have a huge say in any major renovations to the Ballpark.

Come next season, one of my favorite Ballparks will be home of the AAA farm club of the Houston Astros. As part of the new relationship Constellation Field could start to look like a mini Minute Maid Park with Astros fans as far as the eye can see.
Photo R. Anderson

But even if major renovations are not done, make no mistake the Ballpark will become a mini Minute Maid packed to the rafters with Astros fans cheering on the top prospects.

I could even envision a scenario where they try to adjust the schedule to ensure that the Skeeters home games coincide with when the Astros are on the road to maximize the amount of dollars that can be made.

Like Mulder told Scully, I want to believe that the worst-case scenario I am picturing will not take place. I want to believe that come Opening Day 2021 COVID-19 will be on the way out and Swatson and the Skeeters will be there like a warm binkie reminding me of a time before the world went bat guano crazy.

Although I want to believe, I am also not naïve. There will be changes to the way the Skeeters operate. Some will be good; some will be bad. Time will tell whether the changes are something I can live with, or if I need to find another Ballpark to call home.

I really do not want to leave the Skeeters behind. They were my oasis and anti-Astros representing all that I remembered about baseball growing up. Unfortunately, that form of baseball is getting harder and harder to find.

Each year the game of baseball gets more commercialized and sanitized. The days of baseball being an afternoon or evening escape where on can just absorb the sights and sounds are fading. Efforts to streamline and modernize the game will continue until baseball as it once was may cease to exist. There are already examples of that, but the years to come are likely to involve some of the most radical changes to the game that have been seen in centuries.

As part of the musical chairs that is Minor League Baseball the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers appear to once again be swapping out calling the Dell Diamond home for their AAA ballplayers.
Photo R. Anderson

I am too young to be the cranky old guy chasing kids off of his lawn and rambling under his breath  about the way things used to be back in the day.

However, I am old enough to remember that baseball used to be a lot less commercialized and people did not need a million distractions in the Ballpark to keep them amused. Back then people actually went to the Ballpark to see a baseball game from their seats.

Back in high school when I was just kicking off my professional writing career, and attending Southern League games at Tinker Field, baseball was still in a nostalgic era. It was also in the middle of the golden age of the baseball movie.

As for the poem that started this all, memorizing the Robert Frost poem senior year was tied to S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. In the book, and for those with shorter attention spans that seem to be the target audience of the new era of baseball, the movie, Johnny Cade tells Ponyboy Curtis to “Stay gold.”

In the same way now I am asking, pleading, begging even, for the Skeeters to stay gold and not become just another cookie cutter affiliate where fans are mere commodities to be monetized and fleeced for beer and t-shirt sales.

Sadly, my rarely wrong gut knows that nothing gold can stay. As Robert Frost wrote nearly a century ago:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Another Robert Frost poem that I often think of is The Road Not Taken. Two paths are in front of me as I decide whether to accept the road that the Skeeters appear to be heading down, or if I choose another one. But that is a poem, and a column for another day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to reread The Outsiders. Stay gold, Swatson.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson