Remembering our Heroes (Past and Present) on Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. I say that with confidence after checking a calendar to confirm my suspicions. Normally, I would have no trouble at all remembering that the last Monday of May is set aside as a day of remembrance, and a time to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

However, in this newfound time when one day can just roll into the next and be called MonTueWedday, it never hurts to check a calendar for guidance as society charts new territory. This potential side effect of not knowing what day it is comes as much of the world is sheltering in place and honoring the calls to social distance as we unite as one in the battle against the COVID-19 virus which has killed nearly 100,000 Americans.

Large flags and camouflage hats mark Memorial Day across Major League Baseball each year.
Photo R. Anderson

In the past, Memorial Day weekend acted as the unofficial start to summer and involved packed beaches and an overabundance of sports to watch. The weekend also lent itself to copious amounts of meat to cook over an open flame.

While I enjoy baseball, beaches and barbecue, for me, the highlight of the extended Memorial Day weekend has always been as the announcer used to say “Sunday, Sunday Sunday.” I would awake before the sun to catch the Monaco Grand Prix, and then switch over to the Indianapolis 500 before ending my day of nonstop auto racing with the Coca Cola 600.

The times that I was not watching racing, I could catch numerous baseball games from coast to coast.

As a sign of unity during troubling times, the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the Air Force’s Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, flew over several U.S. cities to honor front line workers.
Photo R. Anderson

That all changed this year. Thanks to COIVD-19, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 were not run Memorial Day weekend.

The Coca Cola 600 did take place yesterday, but the stands were empty of the thousands of fans who usually soak in the action. Additionally, there is no joy in Mudville since baseball is still sidelined by the virus.

The NHL and the NBA suspended their seasons in March with no set timetable on when they will return to action. There will be increased drum beats in the coming weeks for sports to return. Leagues are hemorrhaging money and will want to try to recoup as much revenue as they can.

Owners will say that they are doing it for the fans, but many surveys have noted that a lot of sports fans will not feel comfortable heading to an event for a while. Athletes are also becoming more vocal in their opposition to returning to play until they can be assured that it is safe to do so.

So, it is on this Memorial Day that instead of rooting for one’s favorite team, the world has a common enemy to unite behind. The world is at its best when it works together, and there has perhaps been no greater battle than the one it currently finds itself in. Millions of Americans are working from home, alongside children who are learning from home.

Millions more Americans have lost their jobs and are questioning when things will return to the good old days known as before March 2020. It is entirely possible that the good old days as we knew them are years away from returning.

Veterans with underlying health conditions, and the Navajo Nation whose language was used as an unbreakable code in World War II are being hit especially hard by COVID-19, so it is fitting on this day of remembrance that we not only remember their sacrifice in time of war but that we pray for their safety in this battle against the virus.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was commissioned in 1921 as a memorial to veterans of World War I.
Photo R. Anderson

States are starting to ease restrictions on what people can do in an effort to spark the economy. There will no doubt be temptation to push the limits and go out and have as normal of a Memorial Day as possible, and just hope for the best in terms of avoiding infection from COVID-19.

Some politicians will call this the need for people to exercise pent up demand to get out and do normal things. Other politicians will call such actions reckless and an endangerment to others around them. Countries that have reopened early have seen their number of cases go up in some instances. There is no magic formula for deciding when to roll out a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

Throughout all of this, it is crucial to remember that the power resides with individuals to decide when they want to rejoin the economy. Just because something is open, it does not mean that people are forced to go there. COIVD-19 is a relentless scourge that takes no notice of a person’s sports affiliation, political leanings, or any other factors in its path of destruction.

Uncle Sam knew back in World War II that the world needed more moxie. While it may have been a soda slogan back then, today the need for moxie is stronger than ever as the world tries to fight a common public health enemy.
Photo R. Anderson

In past challenges that are remembered on Memorial Day, like World War II, citizens rallied to do all they could to defeat the common enemy.

My grandmother built battleships in Georgia, and my grandfather fought at Pearl Harbor, among other battle sites. My grandparents, and millions of other people’s grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters have done similar things when called to duty.

Memorial Day reminds us that Americans owe their freedom to the sacrifice made by countless individuals who came before us, and to the people who are currently serving in the armed forces. The sacrifice of those who came before us who we remember on Memorial Day made us who we are. Sacrifices people make now to contain the virus, is a gift we can leave for the generations that come after us.

The COVID-19 virus has shown us that a pair of scrubs, a retail vest, or an apron can be just as heroic as camo. Sports on Memorial Day will return, but this year on this day of remembrance instead of complaining about a lack of live sports, stop to think about the health care workers, the police officers, the fire fighters, the grocery store workers, the meat packers, the restaurant cooks, the warehouse fulfillment workers, the delivery drivers, and every other person across the globe who is doing their best to keep the world going.

Many of us are taught as kids that super heroes wear capes and masks. That is true, but the capes are invisible lest they get in the way of the work being done by the people on the front lines, and the masks are there to both protect the identify of the super hero, as well as to protect those around them. Lucky for us our modern day heroes are working on Memorial Day, and every other day keeping us safe from enemies seen and unseen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up some groceries curbside and thank some front line workers.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

NASCAR Provides First Look at What the Return of Sports Could Look Like as Other Sports Sit Impatiently in Neutral

Brad Keselowski started on the pole on May 17, 2020 when NASCAR returned to live racing after a nearly two month hiatus.
photo R. Anderson

When the history books are written to describe the era of COVID-19, it is likely that yesterday, May 17, 2020, will be remembered as the day that sports returned to America.

Okay, to be fair, all sports did not return yesterday. Declaring the “all clear, come and play ball y’all” is likely months away from occurring. Factor in a return to wide open, stadium rockin’ sports as they were prior to March 2020, and some experts say that could be a year or more away.

Still, yesterday will be remembered as the day that NASCAR told their drivers to start their engines, and the fans to stay home and watch. It is easy to see how NASCAR was the first sport to draw up a game plan for a return to competition.

Kyle Busch is set to run seven races in 11 days in all three NASCAR series as part of the sport’s return to live competition.
photo R. Anderson

Drivers sit alone in their 3,000 plus pound octane 93 fueled chariots. So, even during rubbing and bump draftin’, social distancing can be maintained.

Throw in helmets, and protective gear for the pit crew members, and you have yourself a ready-made example of responsible sport in the COVID-19 era. At least that is how the plan is supposed to work.

While social distancing works in NASCAR, other sports leagues will find it harder to show that the athletes are separated by the recommended Center for Diseases Control (CDC) guidelines of six feet of separation. The next sport on the clock to try to return a fan-free viewing experience to the world is Major League Baseball.

Baseball has already returned in South Korea where the season opened in empty ballparks, followed by ballparks allowing up to 1,000 fans to attend from a safe social distance.

It is hard to imagine a scenario where Major League Baseball says the first 1,000 people to the ballpark are allowed inside. It is safer to say, that the only people sitting in the stands for the foreseeable future whenever baseball does return will be team employees.

While no exact timeline has been established for the return of baseball, when it does return it is likely that the pregame lineup exchange at home plate will be eliminated.
photo R. Anderson

I have said this before, and it bears repeating, I miss baseball. However, I do not miss baseball to the point that I want to see players, umpires, and other team personnel put at undue risk of exposure to a virus that currently has no cure just so I can have a few hours of live sports during my work from home time.

Blake Snell, the 2018 Cy Young Award-Winning pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, made waves when he commented on his Twitch channel last week that playing an abbreviated baseball season with a pay cut was not worth the risk to his health for future seasons. Based on estimates of the proposals being negotiated between MLB management and the player’s union, Snell would earn around $2.3 million instead of $7 million in salary for playing what would amount to at best an 82-game season.

To be fair, athletes risk injury every time they take the field. However, one can certainly argue that risking your pitching arm and needing to miss a season because you are recovering from Tommy John surgery is entirely different than risking your health because of a virus.

Snell’s candid assessment of needing to look at his life after this season, versus playing this year and risking his health, drew the usual round of negative comments with people calling him “entitled,” and that he should just “shut up and play.”

After Blake Snell drew criticism for voicing concerns about returning to play baseball, fellow All-Star Bryce Harper noted that Snell made public feelings that many players are pondering in private in regards to the risk of playing baseball too soon to their long-term health.
photo R. Anderson

A pair of All-Stars, in Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado, came to Snell’s defense by noting that Snell went public with what many players are thinking in private related to needing to look long and hard at the risks associated with returning to play baseball this year.

As part of a return to the ballpark plan reported by ESPN, players and all other people involved in the games would be tested for the COVID-19 virus several times a week to allow any potential outbreak to be snuffed out at the source. Under the plan to mitigate the spread of the virus , according to the ESPN report, players, would also be banned by fist bumping, high fiving, and spitting.

However, it is unknown whether players will still be allowed to bang on trash cans in the dugout. Too soon Astros fans?

MLB is targeting a return to play in early July. It is highly likely that the return will feature fireworks and other festive celebrations as the “Boys of Summer” play the National Pastime once more. Any return to play scenario needs to allow players to choose whether they want to return, or if they are willing to forfeit their salary in order to focus on their health for future seasons.

MLB is targeting a return to play in early July. It is highly likely that the return will feature fireworks and other festive celebrations as the “Boys of Summer” play ball once more.
photo R. Anderson

Assuming that MLB does the right thing and allows players to choose to sit out the season, that creates the question of why not just wait until next year to play at all.

Can an 82-game season with some of the top players on each team choosing to not play really be considered legitimate?

Of course, the answer, as it usually does, centers on money. Even without fans in the stands team owners and broadcast networks can make money on games.

Another footnote in the year of COVID-19 history book should not only include the day live major sports returned with NASCAR, but should also include the day that the MLB potentially chose finances over safety. Of course, that financial risk versus personal risk calculus is being performed across the globe as multiple industries look to reopen in the middle of a pandemic.

Millionaire baseball players aren’t the only ones who will need to perform a risk trade when it comes to returning to work. Employers at all levels need to be sensitive to the concerns raised by workers, and where possible accommodations need to be made to protect both their health and their jobs.

I miss going to see Swatson and the rest of the Sugar Land Skeeters. I look forward to a time when I am once again watching them from inside the ballpark.
photo R. Anderson

I am eternally grateful to the men and women working at the grocery store who bring my order out to my car and allow me the opportunity to stay safely socially distanced. Too often, some elements of society look down on workers in retail, transportation, healthcare and hospitality.

Society owes a huge debt to all of the people on the front lines. When the pandemic is over, the people who kept us safe, fed, and tended to health-wise, should be the first ones allowed inside the sporting venues as a show of thanks from a grateful nation.

Until then, sports leagues need to temper their enthusiasm for returning to play. We all miss sports. However, it would just take the death of one player to show that the risk was not worth it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my work from home fury coworkers are meowing for some kibble.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson