As Spring Turns to Summer and Summer Fades into Fall, COVID-19 is Still that Unwanted Pandemic that No One will Miss at All

In a year, where I have said things I never thought I would say before, I discovered yet another example of words that would never be uttered in any other year as 2020 rolls on like a Summer battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Before this year, if you had told me that I would say “that Vancouver Canucks playoff game was great last night” in September, I would have never believed you. But here we are as hockey is being played during the summer along with baseball and basketball in a year of sports like no other in recent memory.

Stand up if you had summer Zamboni rides on your 2020 Bingo Card. Thanks to COVID-19 a winter sport is now a summer sport as the NHL seeks to crown a Stanley Cup Champion from inside the bubble.
Photo R. Anderson

The reason for the shuffling of the sports calendar, and the introduction of sports bubbles, is the COVID-19 virus that is quickly approaching the 200,000-death mark in America.

Just let that sink in for a minute. Sometime before the end of September, over 200,000 Americans are likely to be dead as a result of COVID-19.

It didn’t need to be this way, but instead of looking back, it is time to look forward and figure out how to bring an end to this deadly disease.

Next week, Labor Day Weekend will provide another opportunity for people to either act responsibly, or to crowd the beaches like there is no pandemic.

While I used to look forward to extended holiday weekends, now each holiday brings the knowledge that cases are likely to spike two weeks after it as many people have given up trying to wrangle the virus that has a stranglehold on the country.

Despite that staggering death toll, there is still no unified plan coming out of Washington, D.C. on how to get a handle on the virus other than saying, “it is what it is.”

The other day as I was trying to wrap my mind around the latest wrinkles of 2020, it occurred to me that 2020 is like a mashup of Dixie Chicks songs. Like many people, I had a musical experimental phase, and for reasons I do not understand to this day, my experimental phase took me to the world of country music.

As a result, I now have Forrest Gump like clarity, not about a life describing box of chocolates, but instead about life during a pandemic being like the songs of a country trio.

Of course, before going any further it should be said that the Dixie Chicks are now known as the Chicks. I guess if Prince had started with multiple words in his name, he could have shortened his name and saved us all the trouble of trying to figure out how to pronounce a symbol.

But while 2020 has offered a bit of everything, except for purple rain falling from the sky, for our example here let us focus on the Chicks. Also, there are still three months left for that purple rain to fall. After all, everything is possible in 2020.

In comparing 2020 to a Chicks song, we could do the easy route and say “Wide Open Spaces” perfectly describes the need for social distancing. I mean how can one not think that the lyric, “She needed wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes, she needs new faces, she knows the highest stakes,” doesn’t perfectly address social distancing and face masks?

In comparing 2020 to a Chicks song, we could do the easy route and say “Wide Open Spaces” perfectly describes the need for social distancing. I mean how can one not think that the lyric, “She needed wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes, she needs new faces, she knows the highest stakes,” doesn’t perfectly address social distancing and face masks?

There really is no higher stake right now than getting the virus under control so that people can roam free once more without fear of catching a virus rolling like a tumbleweed from coast to coast.

Of course, if “Wide Open Spaces” doesn’t do it, one could always point to the song “Long Time Gone” when recalling memories of life before the pandemic came to town. If we were to use that song our lyric of choice would be, “Oh, it’s been a long time gone. Long time, long time, long time gone.”

The 2020 rewrite would likely include the words, “Oh I ain’t sat inside a restaurant to eat since I don’t know when, and my hair hangs down to my shin.”

Of course, if “Wide Open Spaces” doesn’t do it, one could always point to the song “Long Time Gone” when recalling memories of life before the pandemic came to town. If we were to use that song our lyric of choice would be, “Oh, it’s been a long time gone. Long time, long time, long time gone.”

While it really does seem like pre-pandemic life is a long time gone, those days will return. So, no that isn’t the lyric that best sums up 2020.

For friends and families of the nearly 200,000 Americans who have died as a result of COVID-19 the song “Tonight the Heartache’s on Me” could sum up their feelings as they deal with the loss of loved ones.

The lyric that would address that situation from the Chicks catalog would be “Tonight, the heartache’s on me. Oh yes, tonight, the heartache’s on me.”

With so many people being impacted by COVID-19, the heartache is shared in nearly every household as more and more Americans become impacted by the relentlessness of COVID-19.

While that would have been a perfect lyric to also sum up the feelings parents have of sending their children back to school in the middle of a pandemic, those weren’t the lyrics that first came to mind either.

I could have also used the 2020 Chicks song “March, March” when describing 2020, with lyrics like, “Watchin’ our youth have to solve our problems. I’ll follow them, so who’s comin’ with me?” and “Lies are truth, and truth is fiction. Everybody’s talkin’, who’s gonna listen?”

While those lyrics perfectly describe the current climate of protests and misinformation surrounding issues of social justice and COVID-19, those also were not the Chicks lyrics that first made me think of 2020 being like one of their songs.

To be fair, all of the lyrics mentioned above prove the point of 2020 being like a mashup of Chicks songs. However, it was verse four of “Goodbye Earl” that convinced me that 2020 is like a Chicks song when I woke up on September 1.

For those unfamiliar with the song, and the fourth verse, it goes as such, “Well the weeks went by and spring turned to summer and summer faded into fall.”

If “Well the weeks went by and spring turned to summer and summer faded into fall,” from “Goodbye Earl” does not describe the blur of 2020, then I don’t know what does. The pandemic arrived in the winter, bloomed in spring, and now as summer prepares to make way for fall, it is still with us with little signs of slowing down.

If that does not describe the blur of 2020, then I don’t know what does. The pandemic arrived in the winter, bloomed in spring, and now as summer prepares to make way for fall, it is still with us with little signs of slowing down.

At this rate, perhaps we can pack a lunch and throw COVID-19 in the trunk by early next year when a vaccine becomes available.

Taking responsibility and social distancing from sea to shining sea to starve COVID-19 of energy certainly isn’t working thanks to stubborn pockets of ignorance and virus deniers.

As an aside, as a lifelong fan of Dennis Franz, his portrayal of Earl, in the star-studded video truly is some of his best work. The music video for “Earl had to Die” won both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association Video of the Year Awards in 2000. Additionally, the video was ranked sixth on CMT’s 2004 ranking of the 100 Greatest Music Videos.

Franz may have earned a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards for his work as detective Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue, but he really shone as Earl.

Although the seasons are rolling together like the lyrics of a song, there is one more Chicks song to help set the mood for 2020. I am referring to the song, “Some Days You Gotta Dance.”

Yes, COVID-19 is stressful, frustrating and deadly. People have turned the response into a messy tribal warfare complete with paint balls and finger pointing. To that I say, as the Chicks sang, “Some days you gotta dance. Live it up when you get the chance. Because when the world doesn’t make no sense. And you’re feeling just a little too tense. Gotta loosen up those chains and dance.”

In a year unlike any other, we can now add me saying, “2020 is like a bunch of Chicks songs” to things I never thought I would say, or let alone write about. But there you have it, a lyrical landslide that rolls 2020 up like a tarpaulin. Now we just need to trust the scientists to take it from there so we can all say goodbye to Mr. Heartbreak known as COVID-19.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to find a roadside stand that sells Tennessee ham and strawberry jam.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dr Pepper Shortage Shows 2020 Loves to Give Until it Hurts Before Giving a Little More

If the year 2020 were a gift, it would be the type of gift that was so hideous that you wouldn’t even regift it to your worst enemy.

From COVID-19 running wild across the globe like a herd of Chincoteague ponies, to toilet paper shortages, disinfectant wipe shortages, distance learning for all, social distancing, sports played in bubbles, as well as sports played outside of bubbles; 2020 has had a little of everything.

We also cannot forget the invasion of murder hornets, attacks on the United States Postal Service, masks becoming a political statement, and oh yeah, the potential of two hurricanes churning in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time for the first time since the Great Depression.

For years, the late Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters told viewers every Friday night that, “This is 20/20.” Maybe they were trying to warn us that 2020 would be something that would be studied with the hindsight of 20/20 vision once it is over.

The band Green Day famously sang, “Wake me up when September ends.” We have not even gotten to September yet, and many people are likely singing wake me up when 2020 ends.

As a side note, I was supposed to see Green Day, Weezer and Fall Out Boy earlier this month. But thanks to COVID-19, that concert, like so many other things this year was cancelled.

On top of all of the other things that have made 2020 the type of year one would like to be done with; we can now add a Dr Pepper shortage to the list of things that could only happen in 2020. Take away my toilet paper, fine. But take away my Dr Pepper and I will likely have serious withdrawal symptoms.
Photo R. Anderson

On top of all of the other things that have made 2020 the type of year one would like to be done with, we can now add a Dr Pepper shortage to the list of things that could only happen in 2020.

Take away my toilet paper, fine. But take away my Dr Pepper and I will likely have serious withdrawal symptoms.

To be clear, I choose Dr Pepper over toilet paper because, one can always find alternatives to use when the toilet paper runs out, but there is only one Dr Pepper. I have tried all of the store brand colas that claim to be just as good as Dr Pepper, but none has come close to replicating that perfect blend of 23 flavors.

A few years ago, I even tried making my own Dr Pepper in an experiment that can be called a disaster at best.

So how much do I love Dr Pepper? Let me count the ways.

I have tried Dr Pepper in milkshake form.

So how much do I love Dr Pepper? Let me count the ways.
Photo R. Anderson

I have tried Dr Pepper flavored Jelly Beans.

I have tried Dr Pepper flavored baked beans.

I have tried Dr Pepper flavored barbecue sauce.

I have been known to wear Dr Pepper clothing.

I have classic glass Dr Pepper bottles as my kitchen backsplash.

When I want an extra authentic feel, I drink my Dr Pepper out of an antique Dr Pepper glass.

Lastly, three years ago I dressed up as Larry Culpepper, the fictional Dr Pepper stadium worker, made famous through a series of ads shown during college football games.

So, it is fair to say that when it comes to Dr Pepper, I celebrate the entire catalog.

That is not to say that the only thing I drink is Dr Pepper. Iced tea and Dr Pepper are my go-to get the day started beverages, as well as my keep the day going refreshments.

I also drink about a gallon of water a day as well, so I do not want it to sound like I have Dr Pepper and iced tea running through my veins with an IV drip. I tried that, but my doctor said that my insurance didn’t cover it.

Despite the lack of an IV drip, go-go juice and punga punga juice, as younger me called Dr Pepper and iced tea, respectively, are never far from my grasp.

That was until 2020 when the Dr Pepper supply dried up faster than a lake bed in the desert and I suddenly found my grasp on securing the sweet nectar slipping.

According to a tweet from the powers that be at Dr Pepper, the shortage is due in part to higher than anticipated product demand in the form of cans and bottles. As noted a few weeks ago, one of the other gifts COVID-19 gave us was a shortage of aluminum cans.
Photo R. Anderson

According to a tweet from the powers that be at Dr Pepper, the shortage is due in part to higher than anticipated product demand in the form of cans and bottles.

As noted a few weeks ago, one of the other gifts COVID-19 gave us was a shortage of aluminum cans.

It is unclear what role, if any, the can shortage is having on the supply of Dr Pepper, since it is sold out in bottle form as well.

While I am sure that Dr Pepper will return to shelves in the not too distant future, the current disruption in the availability in stores, is yet another reminder of how fragile our supply chains are.

That is not to say that there are not hard-working men and women involved in the logistics business. But it does suggest that with supply chains spread out across the globe just one ripple can cause huge waves down the line.

I still shake my head at the fact that one of the key ingredients in disinfectant wipes manufactured in Wuhan, China, ground zero for COVID-19; leading to a scenario where certain cleaning products are expected to be in short supply until next year.

I know that companies move production overseas to keep costs down and to maximize profit, however, I think there will be a lot more legs of supply chain chicken coming back home to roost.

Of course, we need to contain the wildfires both real, and biological, that are raging within our shores before any roosting can happen.

Dr Pepper was born in Texas, so of course there is a Texas barbecue joint in the state capital that makes a Dr Pepper infused sauce. Barbecue and Dr Pepper is second only to a Ballpark view and a Dr Pepper. Of course, eating barbecue sauce and barbecue beans infused with Dr Pepper, at Dr Pepper Ballpark while drinking a Dr Pepper would be the Holy Grail of demonstrating that one was a Pepper.

At the end of the day, not being able to buy Dr Pepper really is as they say, “a first world problem.” Containing a global virus named COVID-19 in the world’s richest nation should not be as hard as people are making it out to be.

As a first world nation, America’s COVID-19 response should have led to a first world solution.

Instead, the United States’ COVID-19 response turned into a doctoral course in how not to run a pandemic response that was run by a man whose university was shut down.

Finding a solution to COVID-19 used to be the type of problem Americans would unite to defeat.

Then again, in the current climate where half of Americans are Coke, and the other half are Pepsi, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that six months into the pandemic there is still no national strategy to combat it.

At least the cola wars didn’t kill anybody. Contrast that to the over 170,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 while some leaders stick their head in the sand, or worse try to distract with conspiracy theories, and blaming the people who live rent free in their head.

So instead of getting a handle on the virus, the virus is handling us like a coast to coast game of Whac-A-Mole.

One of my favorite Ballpark beverages is Dr Pepper. One of my favorite Minor League Ballparks is Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX. Put them together, and it means an ice-cold Dr Pepper is always available with a side of baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Before the world was shut down for COVID-19, I had planned to visit Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX home of the Frisco Rough Riders for the first time in years to score a Ballpark triple play of Dr Pepper, Hot Dog, and ball game. Hopefully, I can do that next year.

Of course, my trip to Frisco, TX, like many other things, is on hold until COIVD-19 is defeated. So far, COVID-19 is hitting most of the pitches thrown at it into the empty grandstands.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to slowly sip one of my rationed cans of Dr Pepper while looking at spaghetti models of the two tropical systems heading my way. Is it 2021 yet?

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Way back Wednesday: Remembering the Lost Art of the Postcard

Editor’s Note: I wrote this column on the lost art of sending postcards back in March 2013. During the current climate of COVID-19, as well as the attempt by some to disrupt the United States Postal Service’s mission to ensure that, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” it seems appropriate to reflect on the connection people can feel through the mail.

It is also important to remember the old AT&T telephone jingle to “Reach out, reach out and touch someone,” during this time of COVID-19 to let people know you are thinking about them.

Of course, in the current COVID-19 climate, any reaching out should be done from a safe social distance. In the meantime, please enjoy this column as part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature.

In this age of instant messaging, e-mail, Twitter, and other ways to communicate at the speed of light, it may come as a shock to some of the younger readers that there was once a time when correspondence was not handled as quickly.

Before the days of Facebook, it was not possible to post a status while on vacation to all of your friends to let them know that you were “Having a great time exploring the world’s largest ball of twine.”

Instead, when you were at that ball of twine, and you wanted to let your friends know how much fun it was before seeing them again in person, you had to buy a postcard and actually place it in something called a mailbox. Your friends would than receive the postcard, and your thoughts on the ball of twine in a few days.

Yes, I know mailboxes still exist, and based on what comes in mine they tend to be a conduit for junk mail and bills alone.

As such I now only check my mail a couple times a month; since there really isn’t anything worth reading that would require me to check it any more frequently.

Once upon a time mailboxes served as a window to communicate with the world. Today, mine mostly serves as a place for junk mail and bills.
Photo R. Anderson

I have made a career out of writing. I was able to made the transition from writing for print publications, to writing for electronic platforms.

For the most part, writing is writing. There will always be a need for clear content to be communicated regardless of the changing platforms as technology moves forward.

While I know that the ways people communicate has changed, sometimes I find myself feeling a bit of nostalgia for the written word and the simple act of receiving a post card through the mail.

Part of this nostalgia was the result of looking through my postcard collection the other day to help remember the name of somewhere that I went on vacation many years ago.

I ended up finding that postcard and my memory was jogged. Looking through the box, other memories were set free as well.

Many of the postcards in my collection were sent to other family members before I was born and were just passed down to me; but several are actually addressed to me. One particular series of cards was the result of a chance encounter on an airplane.

When I was in third grade, my mom and I were on a flight from Washington D.C. to Orlando, FL. There was an older gentleman in the row with us (of course when I was that age everyone was older, so my memory of how old he really was may be warped).

As it was a relatively long flight, we ended up making conversation. Over the course of the conversation, he mentioned that he did a lot of traveling as part of his work with the Army.

I do not recall the whole scenario of how it occurred, but addresses were exchanged and he mentioned that he would write me from his travels.

The postcards did not always include a message but this is typical of the type of message when they did.

In this more jaded world that we find ourselves in now, the chances of a stranger getting the address of a young child under the guise of sending correspondence would probably be less likely to occur.

I for one have become way more suspicious of people’s intentions the older I get.

While it is certainly good to be skeptical, and careful of one’s surroundings, and those that enter them, I sometimes wish that I could see the world through younger me’s eyes when the world was a far less scary place. Back then, the only things I needed to worry about were which pair of pajamas to wear, and how many days until I could ride my bike to the 7-Eleven to check out the latest comic books, or buy a pack of baseball cards.

A few weeks after returning home, I got my first postcard from the man on the plane. The postcards continued for several years, and always included a short note about the destination included on the front.

One of the postcards my pen pal from the plane sent me.

The cards stopped one day, which could have been the result of many factors including the forwarding address feature no longer working, or perhaps the man behind them was no longer able to send the cards for whatever reason.

While I do not remember his name, I do remember the simple act of sharing postcards with a wide-eyed child and the effect that had and continues to have. I have no way of knowing if that man on the plane is even still with us.

If he is, I hope that he is well and is still able to take those wonderful trips that sparked my imagination so many years ago.

But those postcards, as well as the others I received from friends and family, helped me see parts of the world that were harder to see in the pre-internet days and certainly helped nurture my love of traveling.

Some 30 years later I still fondly recall the postcards from my pen pal. Tweets and e-mails will not hold up as well through the decades I imagine.

Today, thanks to the internet, if I want to see a picture of something I need only type it into a search bar and before long I will have more pictures to look at than I could ever hope for.

The Internet has opened the world up to us but in some ways it has also made us more alone than ever before.

I often think about other chance encounters and people who come into our lives for a brief moment and the impact that they have on us. Had my mom and I been seated in any other row on that airplane, I would not have received the postcards.

When I was in Journalism School, one semester my professor assigned the class a project to go to the food court at the mall and observe people. The point behind the assignment was to make note of the various interactions of people coming and going in order to imagine various scenarios as to what brought them there. To this day, I still enjoy people watching.

The next week, the same professor assigned us to go back to the same food court and find a stranger to interview. The point of the exercise being that everyone of us has a story to tell. The trick is to know the right questions to ask to get the ball rolling.

While the memory of the man on the plane will probably not make me any less cautious than I am, since the world today is so much different than it was all those decades ago it is still a nice memory and shows that we all do have stories to tell. The key is to just be open to hear them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I am going to find a food court and see if my interview skills are still as sharp as they once were.

Copyright 2020 R Anderson

Hockey in the Summer is a Small Silver Lining in an Upside Down Sports Year

If anything can be said of the 2020 sports landscape, let it be said that 2020 has been a season like no other.

From fan-free stadiums and Ballparks, to playing sports in a bubble, sports fans are truly seeing things they likely never thought they would see. Of course, due to social distancing they are seeing it from a safe distance which most likely means from their couch.

One of the biggest treats I have discovered during this upside-down season is summer bubble hockey.

Normally I would be fully engaged in the Major League Baseball (MLB) season this time of year. However, thanks to COVID-19 taking a sledge hammer to the schedules of the major sports leagues, the National Hockey League (NHL) is fully engaged in the quest to crown a team worthy of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup meaning the “Boys of Winter” are now the “Boys of Summer,” at least for this season.

Washington Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin is seeking his second Stanley Cup Finals victory. Unlike previous years, thanks to COVID-19 The Capitals and the rest of the Stanley Cup eligible teams are playing hockey during the summer while quarantined in either Toronto, or Edmonton.
Photo R. Anderson

To say that I am enjoying summer hockey would be the same type of understatement as saying that I enjoy breathing.

While breathing is a mostly automatic factor that I take for granted, I had no idea how much breath I would get out of four hockey games a day.

With teams safely quarantined in either Toronto, Ontario or Edmonton, Alberta, there are literally back to back to back to back hockey games on almost every day.

That is like a hat trick of hockey plus an overtime period. Or stated in a more Canadian way, it would be like ordering poutine and learning that the chef made too much, and, instead of throwing away the extra he is giving it to you at no extra cost.

The Vancouver Canucks have given their mascot, Fin, something to cheer about; albeit from a social distance and outside of the Edmonton bubble. The Canucks have a two games to one lead over the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.
Photo R. Anderson

It should be said that I am totally sorry that it took a global pandemic to create summer hockey. COVID-19 is a horrible disease that I am ashamed to say the United States government has not done enough about.

Over 170,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 at the time of this writing. That is unacceptable. Each and every one of us should be holding our elected officials accountable for the way it was mismanaged.

Also, the rush to reopen schools, with zero coordinated effort, is already generating the type of results that anyone paying attention to the way germs spread could have told you would happen.

A week after returning to on campus classes, the University of North Carolina is shutting down in person learning and going back to online instruction due to outbreaks of COVID-19. Of course, UNC was quick to point out that even with students learning remotely have no fear the Tar Heels are still on track to play football in the fall, and travel from city to city with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the important things, the bulk of the country has seemed to embrace a “let them eat cake” philosophy. Although instead of cake as the tone-deaf refrain, it is let them play football.

Playing hockey in two arenas where players are quarantined, is a completely different matter than allowing college football teams to go from town to town to bring people enjoyment on the weekend.

MLB has shown that playing outside of a bubble and traveling is a perfect recipe for catching and spreading COVID-19.

Stand up if you had summer Zamboni rides on your 2020 Bingo Card. Thanks to COVID-19 a winter sport is now a summer sport as the NHL seeks to crown a Stanley Cup Champion from inside the bubble.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, the proponents of playing college football are likely to say that there is way less physical contact in football than there is in baseball. So the ability for the virus to spread won’t be as high, oh wait…

As I have said many times, I love college football. I would love to be watching college football when September rolls around. However, we are not in a position where that would be wise to do.

I also don’t see us magically getting the case count of COVID-19 to a low enough level in the next four weeks where playing college football is a wise thing to do.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that she wished that the United States had shut down and managed the virus in the same way that Italy did. Perhaps if the task force she is in charge of had made a stronger case for that, people would have listened.

Instead, America did a halfhearted shutdown before opening things wide open in time for Memorial Day. I mean why let a global pandemic get in the way of a three-day weekend, right?

As anyone who pays attention to how trends work could tell you, the levels of COVID-19 went up faster than a high stick in a hockey rink; and all of the gains made during the brief shutdown were lost.

Instead of a unified approach to the virus, some Americans wore masks and socially distanced, while others called the virus a hoax and said wearing a mask infringed on their civil liberties. Seriously?

When did doing what is right for the greater good become a political statement?

It looks like COVID-19 will continue to rage until there is a vaccine since some people cannot bring themselves to wear a mask. As a result, I will continue to enjoy bubble hockey from the safety of the Gigaplex.

I would love to be back out in the world doing the things I did before March of 2020. However, with around 1 in 4 people around here infected with COVID-19, and with so many unknowns about the long-term impacts of the disease, I am choosing to stay safe by limiting the number of things I do outside the Gigaplex. And when I do venture forth, I wear a mask and keep a safe social distance from those around me.

In Texas, very few people seem to be wearing masks. I guess they are still thinking they are immune. Either that, or they enjoy playing an extended game of Russian roulette. After all, I believe one of the conspiracy theories being spread on the misinformation superhighway is that wearing a mask takes away your Second Amendment rights.

That would be so worthy of a face palm, although as part of being COVID-19 aware we are not supposed to touch our faces. So, a virtual face palm will have to do.

The next NHL season is supposed to begin in October. Whether that season begins in two bubbles in Canada pretty much rests on what we do over the next two months to take COVID-19 seriously.

As much as I love bubble hockey in the summer, I really would like to attend sporting events in person again.

I am wearing a mask and doing my part to make that happen. What about you?

Now if you’ll excuse me, my Kraft Dinner is waiting.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

As COVID-19 Continues to Impact the Newspaper Industry Five Tribune Newsrooms going Fully Remote

Last week I noted that many journalists are working remotely from bookcase filled mini newsrooms as a result of COVID-19.

For some print journalists, those remote at home locations will turn into their permanent bureaus as some newspapers look to jettison their brick and mortar holdings in favor of an all remote workforce.

This week, Tribune Publishing announced that the physical offices of five newspapers it owns will be closed permanently in response to COVID-19, as well as a changing newspaper climate.

In making the announcement Tribune Publishing noted in a statement that, “Out of an abundance of caution we do not anticipate having employees that can work remotely coming back into the office for the remainder of the year and into 2021. With no clear path forward in terms of returning to work, and as the company evaluates its real estate needs in light of health and economic conditions brought about by the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close these offices.”

The five newspapers going fully remote are the Daily News in New York City, The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, the Orlando Sentinel in Orlando Florida, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the Carroll County Times in Maryland. The papers join a growing list of newspapers that are rethinking their business model.

At a time when solid journalism is needed more than ever to bring facts to the masses and debunk false claims from people in power, more than 50 local newsrooms in the United States have closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the journalism think tank the Poynter Institute.

For years the Orlando Sentinel has had a remote newsroom at Kennedy Space Center’s Press Site. With the announcement that the Sentinel’s parent company is moving out of the main headquarters, one has to wonder whether a move out of remote bureaus like the one at KSC can be far behind.
Photo R. Anderson

Additionally, a UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media report discovered that, “since 2004, the United States has lost one-fourth, or 2100, of its newspapers.”

The study went on to state that these resulting “news deserts” mean that “more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties and equivalents now have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible and comprehensive information on critical issues.”

Consider that fact as people try to figure out whether schools are safe enough to send their kids back to, or if the COVID-19 virus is getting corralled, or is still raging out of control.

Granted, there are still television networks and online news sources to fill some of the void, but for many people the local newspaper is their lifeblood for getting the news that matters to them.

The newspaper industry is far from the only business segment that is likely to consider the cost benefits of shedding their real estate holdings in favor of a remote workforce. However, the announcement that newsrooms would be closing permanently hit me particularly hard.

I grew up reading the Orlando Sentinel, and at one point thought I might work there. Although to be fair, I totally preferred reading Florida Today and the Tampa Tribune over the Orlando Sentinel.

Still, the Sentinel building was a beacon of First Amendment freedom whenever I would drive by it. It was empowering to think of all of the journalists inside those walls working hard night in, and night out, to deliver the truth.

When I was growing up my dream journalism job was to be on the space beat for Florida Today and work out of their press site at KSC. In 2015, the building that I had wanted to work at for so long no longer bore the newspaper’s name on it.
Photo R. Anderson

I even worked with, and competed against, many of the members of the Sentinel’s Sports Staff in my years covering high school and college athletics in and around Orlando.

So although I was never an employee of the Sentinel, I knew many people who were, and still are.

The mighty offset presses inside the Sentinel building went silent about three years ago. Like many papers, the Sentinel outsourced their printing to third parties as a way to cut costs. For the Sentinel, that meant a switch to a printing press about an hour away from downtown Orlando.

I know that the heart of a newsroom is made up of people, and not a building. However, it was the proximity of the people in that building that created the buzz and collaboration that makes journalism work.

When I was 16-years-old, I got my first professional newspaper job as a sports stringer for the Sanford Herald. For an aspiring journalist such as myself, the Herald newsroom was like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory without all of the chocolate and the singing.

Most of the reporters had already gone home by the time I got to the newsroom to write my stories, but the building was still alive with the sports staff, the photographer, and the team that ran the presses.

All these years later, I can still picture the cluttered desk of my first editor and the stacks of paper and other things that he had accumulated through the years surrounding it.

Looking around the cluttered desk I am sitting at while writing this, I suppose I subconsciously picked up that trait.

Aside from memories of cluttered desks stacked high with newspapers, I can still close my eyes and smell the unmistakable odor of newsprint and ink that filled the air. If the First Amendment was a cologne, to me it would smell like newsprint and ink.

The hands-on instruction I received from at the Herald proved invaluable to me in my writing career. Aside from learning the craft of writing on deadline, thanks to those Friday nights in the newsroom I also cannot listen to Edie Brickell & New Bohemians without thinking of the deep thought meditation quote taped on the wall above the editor’s computer.

Through my own years as an editor, from press box to press box, and newsroom to newsroom, I have sought to impart knowledge the same way to the reporters and other people I have managed as the way it was imparted to me all those years ago in a dusty and cramped newsroom in Sanford, Florida.

While I am all for the ability to file stories from the press box to avoid a long cross county drive back to the newsroom, there are definitely times when meeting face to face in a newsroom is critical to honing one’s craft.

It is hard to think of remote video calls having the same impact as actually seeing one’s colleagues face to face.

Of course, I realize that sounds somewhat hypocritical of me to say since I have been basically working remotely for years, and have loved every minute of it.

If the rate of newspaper closures continues at the current pace, it is quite possible that soon the only newspaper boxes one sees will be in Christmas villages and old movies about the glory days of print journalism.
Photo R. Anderson

Still, it is different to work from home and know there is an office to go to from time to time, versus having the office sold and knowing that working from home is the only option.

When I first heard the news of the Sentinel closing their offices, I did what any good reporter would do and researched whether any of the newsrooms I had worked in were still in the same buildings that they were when I worked there.

I already knew that one of the newsrooms I worked in was gone. That newspaper merged with another paper and closed. As a result, I was laid off since the merger made me a redundant employee.

The paper I worked at before the one that merged is still in their same building. That led me to dig deeper and explore the weekly newspapers I worked for at another community chain.

Much to my surprise the entire 20 newspaper chain went from having newsrooms in each of the communities it served, to having one office and half the staff. They also sold the building that had the only printing press in the chain and joined the outsourcing trend.

That brought me back to the Herald, where my professional newspaper career began. Like so many of the other papers I had worked for, the Herald also left their long time building for a smaller facility that did not have a printing press attached to it.

The results of my research revealed that only one of the six newsrooms I worked in is still in operation at the same location it was in when I worked there.

The consolidation of the newspaper industry, and the media in general, will have long lasting effects on the ability to deliver impactful stories that make a difference in communities both small and large.

I know I am biased towards the need for a free and independent press to perform the duty of the Fourth Estate and hold leaders accountable, while also printing the scores of the local youth sports leagues.

COVID-19 has taught us that the need for clear and honest journalism is needed now more than ever. Unfortunately, with so many local newsrooms counting on funding from local businesses to operate, many more newsrooms are likely to go dark in the weeks, months and years to come as advertising revenue shrinks.

I can take solace in the fact that although Tribune Publishing closed five newsrooms, they did not fully shutter the newspapers altogether. Unfortunately, not all newspapers will be as lucky.

COVID-19 did not create all of the funding issues for local print journalism, but it definitely didn’t help slow the spread of the demise of independent voices.

Now if you’ll excuse me, in honor of that quote on the wall in the first newsroom I worked in, I am off to ponder whether what I am is what I am, and whether you are what you are or what.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dinosaurs can Teach Us a Lot About Sports and Pandemic Response

Like many other kids, when I was growing up, I loved dinosaurs.

Show me a picture of a dinosaur and I could tell you the name of the species in question, as well as whether it was a plant loving herbivore, or a meat loving carnivore.

Although my favorite dinosaurs were the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops, I celebrated the entire catalog when it came to the world of dinosaurs.

Although my favorite dinosaurs were the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops, I celebrated the entire catalog when it came to the world of dinosaurs.
Photo R. Anderson

In turns out that my fascination with dinosaurs was not limited to my youth.

I recently completed an online course called Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology, that was offered by the University of Alberta. If the course taught me anything, it is that I still like dinosaurs as much as I did growing up.

It also taught me that a lot has changed in dino science since I was a kid.

So, why do I bring up dinosaurs you may ask?

As we all know, dinosaurs are no longer with us. While scientists may argue about the specifics of how it happened, they all agree that except for fantasies portrayed in cinematic parks of a Jurassic nature, dinosaurs are very much extinct in this day and age.

That got me thinking about the ongoing debates related to the wisdom of playing sports in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

As we all know, dinosaurs are no longer with us. While scientists may argue about the specifics of how it happened, they all agree that except for fantasies portrayed in cinematic parks of a Jurassic nature, dinosaurs are very much extinct in this day and age.
Photo R. Anderson

Thankfully, we are likely to have a vaccine, therapeutic treatments, or at the worst herd immunity against COVID-19 before things would reach an extinction event level scenario.

However, the fact remains some people are ignoring the virus, and trying to act as if there isn’t a huge asteroid heading towards them.

Major League Baseball (MLB) ignored the science, and is paying the price through player and staff outbreaks in their non bubble approach to the season. Recently, it was noted that MLB may look into a modified bubble approach for the postseason.

The NHL and NBA are just two of the leagues that have shown bubbles work. The MLB and the rest of society could learn a lot from their example.

Of course, despite the growing evidence, and the growing COVID-19 outbreak, some sports are appearing to be as dense as a dinosaurs armor plating when it comes to evolving their thought process on the reality of the disease.

Consider the world of college football as the next battleground in the “to play or not to play” debate. While some college football conferences are canceling their fall seasons, there are others that are either waiting until the last possible minute to cancel, or are somewhat convinced that a miracle will occur and the heavens will open up to allow them to play football.

Of course, despite the growing evidence, and the growing COVID-19 outbreak, some sports are appearing to be as dense as a dinosaurs armor plating when it comes to evolving their thought process on the reality of the disease.
Photo R. Anderson

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy football. I especially enjoy college football.

As mentioned previously, one of my favorite things to do on Saturdays in the fall is to get up and watch College GameDay followed by watching football games until late into the night.

The idea of a fall without football is certainly a tough thing for me to consider, but as the late Wilfred Brimley would say when he was selling oatmeal on TV, canceling college football is “the right thing to do.”

To be clear, football, even limited conference schedule only football, has no business being played in the middle of a global pandemic.

Of course, since college football is more business than educational endeavor, that is exactly the argument being made for why college football must be played.

Put bluntly, the argument for why some schools are determined to play is because there is too much money involved to just walk away.

Lost in all of the noise about needing to play college football in order to make all of that sweet, sweet cash, is the fact that college athletes are not paid. Also, college athletes do not have the same protections as professional athletes when it comes to negotiating their rights to opt out of the season without penalty.

Talk about a prehistoric concept.

I spent several years of my career working in collegiate sports information offices. As such, I have a bit of an idea of the inner workings of a college athletic department.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to surge like a tidal wave heading towards an unsuspecting beach, my first thought was there is no way that any college athletics program will want to risk the lives of their students just to make a few bucks.

Yes, there are college athletes who want to play football. However, there are also athletes who are worried that playing football this season will result in long-term health effects, or even death. I figured the adults in the room would choose athlete safety over profit.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Although some conferences have done the right thing and delayed and/or cancelled their seasons, The Big 12 and Southeastern Conferences (SEC) are promoting an “ignore the rising death count, we are here to play ball” approach.

It is likely not a coincidence that the Big 12 and SEC schools are mostly located in cities and states that are treating COVID-19 like a hoax. Many people in those areas are refusing to wear masks, or social distance and are promoting wild conspiracy theories that might even make the writers of the X-Files say, “That’s some crazy stuff right there.”

Perhaps if the athletic departments at those schools left their multimillion dollar facilities and walked to the science departments on the other side of campus, they might get a better idea of why playing football in the middle of COVID-19 is not really a good idea.

The sad thing is, that if everyone had just buckled down in March and not prematurely reopened for Memorial Day the spread of COVID-19 would likely be contained to a level where playing college sports could be handled safely.

Perhaps if the athletic departments at those schools left their multimillion dollar facilities and walked to the science departments on the other side of campus, they might get a better idea of why playing football in the middle of COVID-19 is not really a good idea.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, that is not what happened, and so we are worse off now than we were back in March.

Going back to our dinosaur example, some scientists have hypothesized that had the asteroid that hit near the Yucatan Peninsula, resulting in the death of 75 percent of the earth’s species, hit almost anywhere else on the planet the dinosaurs likely would have survived.

While we can’t bring back the dinosaurs, it isn’t too late to get a handle on containing COVID-19. That is where the focus should be. We should not be worrying about what to do on Saturdays if there is no college football to watch.

The Chicxulub asteroid didn’t stop to ask the dinosaurs what they ate. It wiped out both the herbivores, and the carnivores with equal reckless abandon.

Likewise, COVID-19 attacks the people in blue states, as well as the people in red states.

Or, to put it in college football terms, COIVD-19 doesn’t care if you want the Tide to roll, or if you think that it is time for someone else to build a dynasty on the gridiron.

There will be a time to play college spots again, but first we really should get the raging wildfire under control. That should be something that even the most bitter of college rivals can agree on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to see if I can extract some DNA from this mosquito I found in a block of amber.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

The 2020 MLB Season is Rolling on Like a Tarpaulin Over a Wet Field

To say that the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season has been full of challenges would be an understatement.

The season has consisted of one challenge after another with little sign of slowing down.

For starters Spring Training was shut down in March. Then, when the season resumed two months later, teams were faced with a grueling 60-games in 66 days schedule.

Due in no small part to a shortened Spring Training, several marquee players have had their season cut short due to injuries.

To make things even more interesting, a handful of teams are battling outbreaks of COVID-19 that are causing games to be postponed at an alarming rate.

Those teams that are lucky enough to play games are doing so in empty Ballparks in front of cardboard fan cutouts and the sounds of pumped in Ballpark noise.

This is even the type of season where no hitter bids are ended by routine fly balls getting lost in the air by normally competent outfielders.

To put things mildly, this is a season where anything can and will happen.

With all of those challenges, the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals likely were just happy to be at the Ballpark on Sunday.

The Orioles were ahead 5-2 when the tarp started rolling Sunday in a game against the Washington Nationals. Normally that would mean that the game would be called and the Orioles would be declared the winners. Nothing about the 2020 season falls under normal conditions. So, of course the game fell under a little used wrinkle in the rule book related to faulty equipment and was suspended instead of called official.
Photo R. Anderson

That all changed in the sixth inning when a rain shower in the Nation’s Capital provided some comic relief; while also showing just how crazy this season, and for that matter entire year, really is.

Raise your hands if you had, ground crew struggles to cover the field with a tarp on your 2020 Bingo card.

If you did have that on your Bingo card, congratulations since that is exactly what happened at Nationals Park.

In perfect conditions, the grounds crew can roll out a tarp and cover the field with the precision of a well-choreographed ballet.

In less than perfect conditions, like Sunday’s Orioles and Nationals game, a grounds crew can struggle for more than 15 minutes to get the tarp across the infield while allowing the field to turn into a muddy mess.

After a two-hour, eight-minute delay to try to get the field back in playing condition the umpires declared the field unplayable and suspended the rest of the game.

Under normal circumstances, the game would have been deemed official. According to the MLB rule book, any contest that is called after 15 outs have been made when the visiting team took the lead in the previous inning or earlier is deemed an “official game.”

If the rain delay comes before 15 outs are made, when the game is tied or in the same inning that the visiting team took the lead, it is suspended until a later date.

The Orioles were ahead 5-2 when the tarp started rolling. Normally that would mean that the game would be called and the Orioles would be declared the winners.

Nothing about the 2020 season falls under normal conditions. So, of course the game fell under a little used wrinkle in the rule book related to faulty equipment.

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinklers on game day.
Photo R. Anderson

The tarp that the Nationals’ grounds crew attempted to use was tangled up in its roller like a string of Christmas lights. As such, it fell under Rule 7.02 of the MLB hand book which reads that any game that is called as a result of “light failure, malfunction of, or unintentional operator error in employing, a mechanical or field device or equipment under the control of the home Club” must be picked up at a later date.

The tarp and the roller are considered a field device and as such due to the inability to deploy said device properly the Nats live to play another day.

“We couldn’t get the tarp on the field. I feel bad for our grounds crew because, personally, these guys, to me, are the best or, if not, one the best. It’s just unfortunate that that happened,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez during the postgame Zoom video call. “For me, honestly, it’s part of this 2020 season. It really is. There is going to be days when you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it. So, we just got to keep moving on.”

As part of that moving on, the game will resume Friday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as part of a scheduled series in Baltimore. Despite changing venues, the Nationals will remain the home team for the suspended game. When the game resumes, the Orioles will have two men on with one out in the top of the sixth and leading 5-2.

If I were the type to peddle in conspiracy theories, I might suspect that the Washington Nationals grounds crew tangled the tarp on purpose to allow the Nats the chance to climb back from their three-run deficit.

Where are Mulder and Scully when you need them?

Of course, since this is 2020, and there is a global COVID-19 pandemic where up is down and down is up, I will give the grounds crew a pass and say that the 15-minute tarp deployment really was just an unfortunate accident, and not a premeditated act, or a conspiracy, to help the home team avoid a loss.

However, if the Nationals end up winning the game Friday, they should definitely thank their grounds crew for the assist.

I learned many life lessons from the movie Bull Durham. One of the most important ones being, everyone needs a rain delay now and then. The way 2020 keeps rolling on I am sure a lot of us wish that someone would turn the sprinklers on and give us a break from this tumultuous year.

Of course, if that were possible, the way this year has gone, I am sure someone would find a loop hole that says we would have to make the year up due to equipment failure. Once through 2020 is plenty, so maybe it is best not to use the rain delay clause just yet.

If one wanted to apply deep thought to the tarp situation in Washington D.C. they could say that 2020 is a lot like that grounds crew trying to cover that field. This year is a muddy mess and a struggle. However, if we all work together as one, we can roll out that tarp and tackle the raging COVID-19 storm that is washing away 2020.

I guess the key is to Tarpe Diem, err Carpe Diem that is.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a spot on my 2020 Bingo card to fill in.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Due to Writer’s Block Today’s Column has been Cancelled

Dating back to the first article I wrote for my middle school newspaper, I have spent the better part of three decades as a journalist.

During that time, I have spent many hours inside bustling newsrooms pounding out columns and other articles at deadline. I even lived every print journalist’s dream and got to yell, “stop the presses” once when I was working as a sports editor at a daily newspaper.

Okay, it was more like, “Hey, Bob we need to redo the front page, so can you stand down for a bit?”

But in my mind, I ran in there like Michael Keaton in The Paper with Glenn Close chasing behind me trying to stop me from bringing those mighty offset presses to a halt by pressing the kill switch like a crazed Guttenberg.

For the record, that would be like a crazed Johannes Gutenberg, and not like a Police Academy alum Steve Guttenberg.

There is an electricity in newsrooms that is hard to duplicate. So it is that lack of electrical energy that I will blame for my malaise when it came to deciding what I wanted to write about today.

I certainly tried to think of something clever to write. Instead, I spent most of the day staring at a blank computer screen when I wasn’t making homemade tacos, or blueberry pancakes, while watching documentaries and flipping between baseball and hockey games.

So, it is with my sincere apologies that I must announce that today’s column has been canceled due to a lack of subject to write about.

Sure, I could write about the fact that COVID-19 cases continuing to soar out of control like a bus being driven by Sandra Bullock on a deserted California interstate.

I certainly tried to think of something clever to write. Instead, I spent most of the day staring at a blank computer screen when I wasn’t making homemade tacos, or blueberry pancakes, while watching documentaries and flipping between baseball and hockey games.
Photo R. Anderson

If I were to write about that, I would be sure to point out that at the time of this writing over 162,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 as the virus continues to speed along killing about 1,000 people a day without showing any real sign of stopping.

I would also be sure to point out that more and more students and teachers are raising concerns about the patchwork of rules being implemented for returning kids to school.

Many schools seem to be treating back to school like some sort of demented science fair project where the students left standing get ribbons, and the rest of the students and staff risk long-term health effects that could dog them for the rest of their lives.

But hey, just open it all up and hope that fortune favors those who fail to follow the science. Spoilers, it doesn’t.

I could write about that, but it would be too easy to say that cases of COVID-19 are rising because of a lack of a central plan to combat the virus, and that nationwide testing needs to be increased in order to fully get a grasp on the virus before trying to reintroduce people to large indoor spaces like schools and whatnot.

Were I writing about concerns pertaining to back to school, I would also be sure to point out that despite what you may have heard, kids can catch and spread COVID-19 as well as adults.

If I was so inclined, I could even write about how instead of tackling real issues about how to encourage people to take the virus seriously, the President of the United States is holding press conferences where members of the public are not abiding by the few guidelines his administration has actually given out regarding COVID-19. You know that whole wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and avoid large indoor gatherings thing to stop the spread.

No, that would be too easy to write about.

Oh, I suppose I could even write about the expected 250,000 people heading to South Dakota this weekend for the largest gathering that has taken place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But if I were to write about it, no doubt I would point out that it will be interesting to see whether cases spike across the country as a result of the large gathering that 60 percent of the locals in the community asked be cancelled out of concerns for their health.

It seems like every day we plunge further down the rabbit hole. Meanwhile, our elected officials stick their heads in the sand like ostriches clicking their heels together and trying to just wish the virus away.

I could even write about how much enjoyment watching three bubble hockey games a day is giving me. But that would be unfair to Major League Baseball (MLB) to point out that bubbles work and trying to play ball outside a bubble leads to COVID-19 outbreaks.

You know, like the current outbreak that has caused a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs to be cancelled.

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot MLB refuses to use the word cancelled. Let me try again, a series against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs that was postponed to some future date.

While I am in no way going to write about the Cardinals, if I were to write about their situation, I would likely point out that with the latest series “postponement,” the Cardinals will have gone at least 12 days without playing a game.

While I am in no way going to write about the Cardinals, if I were to write about their situation, I would likely point out that with the latest series “postponement,” the Cardinals will have gone at least 12 days without playing a game.
Photo R. Anderson

Thanks to two COVID-19 flareups, with nine players and seven staff members testing positive for the virus, the Cardinals have only played five games this season.

Assuming they are given the all clear to resume play on Monday, they will face the task of needing to play 55 games in 49 days just to complete their 2020 season.

To be totally clear, I won’t write about the uphill climb faced by the Cardinals. But if I did, I would once again have to point out the total lunacy of MLB’s tunnel vision of playing a 2020 season despite the risks, and despite having multiple teams unable to compete. If MLB is not careful, sudden death will take on a whole new meaning this season.

I could even write about the foolish push to try to play football in the fall were I so inclined. Were I to tackle that issue, pun intended, I would be sure to note that if we were able to get the infection rate down to a manageable level than perhaps playing football would be a nice reward for a functional society.

But, plateauing at 1,000 people dying a day does not really sound like something to celebrate by tossing the old pigskin around.

Some college football conferences as well as some individual teams have agreed that playing football in the middle of a global pandemic is not smart. As a result, they cancelled their 2020 seasons. Time will tell if others follow suit.

So, with nothing to write about today, I guess I will just have to go back to trying new recipes for poutine as I continue to watch the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ponder what I will write about Monday.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

COVID-19 is Changing Where Journalists Work, but Not Why They Work

Thanks to COVID-19, although many professional sports leagues have resumed play, in many cases the broadcasters are calling the game action from miles away.

For NASCAR, only the pit reporters are live on the scene. The announcers are calling the action from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ditto for Major League Baseball where national broadcasters are in remote studios watching the game on a monitor just like the fans.

The ability to call games in real-time from remote locations is both a testament to the technology as well as a reminder that we are not in normal times.

During the time of COVID-19 many journalists have been broadcasting from their kitchens using plants and fruit as props. I can neither confirm nor deny that I grew this onion specifically for that purpose
Photo R. Anderson

Throughout my career as a journalist, I have interviewed people in person, and I have interviewed people remotely. The bulk of my story assignments involved actually being at the game, or the city council meeting, to get a first hand eyewitness account of the action.

Each rule begets exceptions, so while I always tried to be as they say “in the room where it happened,” there were times when a coach would call me with results of an out of town ballgame to ensure it was covered.

Although, I would often write stories at my desk after a game, never once did I think, “You know what, I think I will just cover the whole game from right here.” Come to think of it, I wrote an award-winning story about a distemper outbreak without ever leaving my desk, so maybe there is something to be said for passive reporting.

After being mostly confined to the Gigaplex for the past five months, I can see a certain appeal to working from home, and consider myself extremely lucky to be able to do that.

I am far from the only journalist who has found themselves home bound, and having to modify their reporting techniques to include more WebEx interviews and video calls. Thanks to COVID-19, not only are journalists needing to change how they gather facts for a story, we are now getting an inside look at where those facts are being gathered.

As a result of the broadcast from home trend, where live from the studio, becomes live from fill in the blank, I have now seen Dan Rather’s study, and Bob Costas’ kitchen.

Growing up, I had always envisioned I would see those two places as an invited guest. In my mind, Dan, Bob, and I would be potluck pals as they bestowed their vast wisdom on a much younger colleague. Sadly, that dream has yet to come true but hope springs eternal.

Bob and Dan are far from the only people who have let viewers into their homes. For a while, the late-night talk shows of Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien, Steven Colbert, Seth Myers and Jimmy Kimmel were filmed from their respective homes.

A few weeks back I started to ponder what my background would be if I got the call to provide my insight on a national television outlet, or, you know, if Dan Rather and Bob Costas invited me to a virtual potluck.
Photo R. Anderson

While I hate that it took a pandemic for it to happen, I have enjoyed the peek inside the homes of journalists, and other people on television.

A personal favorite viewing experience was the one night that Anderson Cooper broadcast his show from what looked like a rich mahogany study one would find in the pages of Agatha Christie, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The only thing missing was a smoking jacket and the need for either Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot to solve a whodunit case.

Anderson Cooper’s awesome (Gigaplex goals) home studio aside, the backgrounds for most people seem to fall under some main categories.

There are the shots of people in their dens in front of a wall of books.

There are people broadcasting from their kitchens with either flowers or bowls of fruit as props behind them.

There are even some people who utilize both flowers and fruit.

Another popular background is a roaring fire.

And of course, who can forget the wall of accomplishments, or a subtlety placed Emmy award casually shining in the background technique?

With so many backgrounds to choose from, and lots of time on my hands, a few weeks back I started to ponder what my background would be if I got the call to provide my insight on a national television outlet, or, you know, if Dan, Bob and I decide to have a virtual potluck.

The fireplace background technique was immediately eliminated. While there is a fireplace in the Gigaplex, I have never used it. In Texas it is hardly ever “fireplace weather.”

The “oh hey there, I am just chilling here in my kitchen with a pineapple while my sourdough starter rests” approach was also ruled out since as much as I love a good still life, a) the Gigaplex kitchen is on the smaller side, b) really, a kitchen? and c) I do not have a pineapple, or sunflowers handy.

While I hate that it took a pandemic for it to happen, I have enjoyed the peek inside the homes of journalists and other people on television. It inspired me to look at what my own background style would be. I call this example, space is messy.
Photo R. Anderson

So, that led me to hone in on the wall of books background idea. When I was growing up, my parents had a den that had floor to ceiling bookshelves on two walls and rough cedar planks on the other two walls.

To this day, one of my biggest Gigaplex goals is recreating that room. Although, after seeing Anderson Cooper’s den I may need to up my game.

While I do not yet have a single room for all of my books, I do have several walls in several rooms filled with bookshelves. So, the key became deciding which wall to use as my base of broadcasting operations.

There are two types of wall of book displays that have been featured during pandemic protocol. There are the anal-retentive displays where the books are likely alphabetized, and arranged by color, size, or other design element. The second type is the messy lived in book look.

There are two types of wall of book displays that have been featured during pandemic protocol. There are the anal-retentive displays where the books are likely alphabetized and arranged by color, size, or other design element. The second type is the messy lived in book look. My design style is lived in and messy
Photo R. Anderson

Here at the Gigaplex I totally embrace the messy book approach. So, as part of my background experiment I set a ground rule that the bookshelf would be unmodified to reflect the true reality, versus spending hours arranging certain books so that they looked casually asunder, and not like they had been placed there on purpose.

Of course, with my books arranged by subject in various rooms, the trick became what type of book would I highlight?

Part of the fun of the book background is pausing the television and trying to read the titles of the books to see what other people are reading. One reporter’s book shelf even inspired me to order one of the books I saw.

My choices for book background were narrowed down to space books, sports books, and history/political science books. I left out my shelf of journalism books for the most part based on the bookshelf location. I also ruled out the book shelves of mysteries, science fiction, Ian Fleming, and pretty much all fiction books.

It is not that I am ashamed for people to see which books I have in those categories, it is just that those book shelves are located in the Gigaplex sleeping chamber.

The Gigaplex sleeping chamber was ground ruled out as a suitable background room based on poor lighting and the fact that I really don’t like to make my bed. Although I have seen a few people reporting live from their bedrooms.

So, with the criteria set for the bookish background photo shoot I went from shelf to shelf trying to decide which one would look best.

Ultimately, I decided that I could use two locations depending on which topic I was being asked to speak about. For sports related topics, I would go with my sports book background to show my vast knowledge of sport.

For harder hitting stories, my space books background would be chosen in order to give off that certain sumpin sumpin.

So, now that I know what background to use, I guess I will just go back to waiting for that call from a colleague needing my unique take on the news of the day.

Of course, I could also use the background for the podcast I am developing, but that is a story for another day.

COVID-19 has caused journalists to change how they gather and report the news in many cases. It has not however, changed the commitment to getting the facts out where they are needed; even if that means reporting from their kitchen in front of some sunflowers and a pineapple like a 21st century Vincent van Gogh.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some books to dust and I need to pick a dish to bring to the potluck with Dan and Bob.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

COVID-19 Leads MLB to Cancel Field of Dreams Game as Cases Among Players Continue to Rise

It turns out that if you build it in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic, they won’t come.

Such is the case for the highly touted Major League Baseball (MLB) game between the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals that was scheduled to be played August 13 in Dyersville, Iowa amongst the cornfields made famous by the movie Field of Dreams.

First announced last year, the Field of Dreams game was originally set to feature the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees “having a catch” at a specially constructed, 8,000-seat Ballpark near the movie’s iconic diamond. The Cardinals replaced the Yankees on the program after MLB opted for a regionally based schedule.

On Monday word spread that the game was canceled amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19 within the ranks of MLB.

The cancellation comes as the St. Louis Cardinals became the latest team to get put in time out after multiple players and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

First announced last year, the “Field of Dreams” game was originally set to feature the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees “having a catch” at a specially constructed, 8,000-seat Ballpark near the movie’s iconic diamond. The Cardinals replaced the Yankees on the program after MLB opted for a regionally based schedule. On Monday word spread that the game was canceled amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19 within the ranks of MLB.

For comparison, the National Hockey League (NHL) reported Monday that zero players, or other personal inside their two bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton have tested positive for COVID-19.

Bubbles work, but MLB owners burst the bubble approach by demanding that they be free to move about the country, or at least move about regionally, to play ball in their own Ballparks.

It is no secret why MLB wanted to be bubble free. Houston Astros owner Jim Crane was brutally honest when he said he wanted as many fans as possible in the Ballpark buying t-shirts and concessions in order to recoup some lost revenue. As I noted at the time, that was one of the most tone-deaf statements I ever heard an MLB owner make.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise from coast to coast, and within MLB dugouts. As a result, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred warned over the weekend that the season could be shut down if players do not contain the spread of COVID-19.

During an interview with ESPN Manfred stated, “the players need to be better. But I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”

Manfred made those remarks, as 20% of the league was sidelined in an attempt to combat two separate COVID-19 outbreaks.

The “I am not a quitter,” and it isn’t my fault, remarks reminded me of a couple of other people who were faced with making tough decisions as the reality of a situation bigger than themselves crashed in upon them.

On August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned from office by uttering in part, “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.”

Putting the interests of America ahead of his desire to finish his term, Nixon became the only U.S. president to resign from office.

Rob Manfred could learn a lot from Richard Nixon. As MLB Commissioner, it is Manfred’s job to do what is best for the entire league, and right now playing baseball in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic does not seem to fit the definition of best.

As the late Kenny Rogers would say, Manfred needs to “know when to fold them.”

It is time for MLB to resign themselves to the fact that the 2020 season is a lost cause. MLB tried to have a season. No one can take that away from them. Walking away now, and canceling the season before it gets worse is the honorable thing to do.

Instead of making a graceful exit, and doing a proverbial flyover in Marine One, Manfred seems determined to follow the example of another president by using the blame and deflect game as he puts lives and careers at risk to seemingly serve his own self interests of proving that he isn’t a “quitter,” and we would have had a successful season if not for those meddling kids being kids in the middles of a pandemic.

Yes, some players are leaving their hotel rooms when they travel and are potentially getting exposed to the virus. But they are just as easily exposed during the constant travel from ballpark to ballpark.

For MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s apparent role model for taking zero responsibility, consider the actions of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, shown in Lego form, who has blamed nearly everyone under the sun for making him look bad with the spread of COVID-19, while seeming to take zero responsibility for trying to contain a virus that has killed over 156,000 Americans. Manfred, is blaming players instead of taking ownership of a failed plan to avoid a bubble approach to returning to action and it may cost him the season he fought so hard to have.
Photo R. Anderson

For Manfred’s apparent role model for taking zero responsibility, consider the actions of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who has blamed nearly everyone under the sun for making him look bad with the spread of COVID-19, while seeming to take zero responsibility for trying to contain the virus.

Yes, Mr. President over 156,000 Americans willingly died of COVID-19 just to make you look bad. That is some next level narcissism for someone to believe that.

Instead, over 156,000 Americans died in part due to a lack of centralized leadership and messaging coming out of the White House. Oh yeah, and the rush to reopen everything when we hadn’t flattened the curve didn’t help either.

In lieu of a national plan coming out of the White House, we get attacks on doctors and the media who are both engaged in trying to get the truth out and help save lives as they try to fill the leadership void. We also get attacks on governors for not managing the one of 50 different ways the United States is attacking COVID-19.

Like the effort to combat COVID-19, MLB is also suffering from a lack of leadership and messaging. If MLB was playing games in a bubble, I would give them way more leeway to try to get the situation under control. But they aren’t, and it isn’t.

Perhaps showing that players are not really buying into a belief that MLB has their best interests at heart, more and more players are opting out of the 2020 MLB season.

I cannot blame the players for deciding that the risks to their health are not worth playing ball in the current COID-19 climate. I can also not blame players for feeling that MLB is not able to keep them safe.

It is time for MLB to ease their pain and try again next year. The National Football League and College Football also need to take notice and realize that sports outside of a bubble don’t work.

MLB let greed guide them over science. If the NFL and NCAA play football in the fall it will be an equally greedy endeavor.

I have asked it before, and it bears asking again, how on earth did we let ourselves get here? We really have no one to blame but ourselves for not demanding more accountability out of our elected officials and demanding that they come up with a unified strategy. Thankfully it is not too late to turn it around and we can also all be part of the solution.

It is time to corral COIVD-19, and not try to return sports and other areas of live to normal while over 1,000 people a day are dying. These aren’t normal times, but we could be closer to returning to normal if everyone would just commit to wearing a mask and keeping their distance.

Such simple things to do, yet thanks to political lines being drawn, and a leadership vacuum, we are all left to fend for ourselves and hope for the best.

There is an empty Ballpark nestled among Iowa cornfields ready for baseball to return there in 2021, it is time for the 30 MLB Ballparks to go the distance and do the same by emptying Ballparks out until next year.

Of course, if we fail to get a handle on COVID-19, there may not be any baseball next year either. Much like He-Man of the Masters of the Universe franchise, we have the power.

We don’t even need to hold a magic sword aloft as we recite a mantra. We just need to wear a mask, socially distance, avoid crowds, wash our hands and act as one nation.

It isn’t rocket science, but it is scientifically proven to work. If we fail, we have no one but ourselves to blame.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some bubble hockey to watch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson