I recognized the queasy feeling inside my stomach immediately when I awoke Thursday morning. The dreaded feeling that surfaces only in times of extreme sadness was back, triggered this time by the breakneck pace of the coronavirus news.
As morning turned to afternoon, the virus took down one major sporting event after another in the hope that those heavy cancellation and postponement decisions that affect so many in the short run will save lives in the long run.
It’s impossible to dispute the logic.
But it’s also difficult to imagine a world without a Final Four because of this new kind of March madness. It’s hard to fathom that the Flyers’ recent run of success might not result in an opportunity to make a long-awaited playoff run, or that Ben Simmons might be out for the rest of the season because there is not going to be any more NBA season.
And the return of baseball is going to be delayed indefinitely while thousands and thousands of fans are deprived of seeing their favorite team in their favorite places down in Florida and out in Arizona. There’s nothing quite like spring training for a relaxing vacation, but that, too, has been wiped out by the coronavirus.
I was probably most sad for a nephew who plays college baseball in North Jersey. His team, off to an 8-1 start, was scheduled to go to Florida this weekend, but 10 games were wiped from the schedule and it’s possible his junior season could be in jeopardy, too.
I’ve covered my share of sad stories over the last 38 years. I was in Los Angeles with the Phillies in late April 1992 when the riots erupted.
The Phillies, after the final two games of the series were postponed, moved on to San Francisco. I stayed in L.A. and met some of the people most impacted by the fires and looting.
I recently came across a historical newspaper website that allowed me to read the stories I had written as a 28-year-old for the Courier-Post. They took me back to that time and place that left my nerves so frazzled and stomach so queasy. I remember interviewing an elderly woman as her apartment burned to the ground with her pet parakeet inside. I had picked a bad time to quit smoking.
I was in Veterans Stadium in 1987 when the NFL opted to play a regular-season game with replacements during a players strike. The Eagles, with a quarterback whose name was misspelled on the back of his jersey, lost, 35-3, that day to a group of Chicago Bears that used a guy who left his bartending job to play quarterback.
The really gruesome scene, however, took place outside the stadium, where rugged Teamsters shamelessly intimidated fans trying to enter the game. It still sickens me to think about it.
Major League Baseball got its chance to handle the strike scene seven years later and came up just as small as the NFL.
First, the 1994 World Series was canceled and then the owners invited replacement players to spring training in 1995 in an effort to break the union. It did not work. I still remember my lead the day after the strike finally ended: Don’t forgive and don’t forget. The owners and players had earned our disdain.
I was in the air on Sept. 11 and there’s no need to mention the year. The Phillies, for the first time since 1993, were in a pennant race and about to begin a vital three-game series against the Braves in Atlanta when four planes flown by terrorists forever changed the history of our country.
As I waited to get off the plane in Atlanta, my wife told me that the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York was crumbling to the ground. I repeated what she said aloud and the passengers around me looked at me like I was talking gibberish.
That pit in my stomach lasted a long time and the rest of the Phillies’ season seemed so unimportant even though the resumption of games became cathartic for so many.
Now, the coronavirus has brought back that uneasy feeling.
“I know sports is very important to our country and obviously it employs a lot of people, too,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi told reporters in Florida on Thursday after his team’s last exhibition game, against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“People look forward to turning a game on. I know I do, and we’re going to be without that for a while. I think it’s in our best interest to be safe rather than sorry and eventually, I believe we’ll all be back out there and the world will be normal again. But right now we’re in a little pause.”
Wise words from a smart man, but this queasy feeling caused by the coronavirus feels worse than all the others mentioned above.
When the games stopped after 9/11, we needed the pause to grasp the enormity of it all and we were soothed by the countless stories of heroism in New York, Washington, and on that plane that was taken to the ground by the passengers in Pennsylvania.
The same was true about the riots in Los Angeles. So many good people rose up in the face of an awful situation.
When baseball stopped in 1994, we knew that the players and owners had only themselves to blame.
Now, we are trying to fight a virus that at the moment is beating us down. The truth is, we do not know when this pandemic is going to end or how many lives it is going to claim.
The elixir provided by the games we love isn’t going to be available for a while either, and the people who play them are going to be deprived of reaching their goals through no fault of their own.