Starting with a statement
Heyward’s solo run with city’s flag was an ideal way to begin this most unusual season
You want a symbol of big-time sports’ return to Chicago? Try the Cubs’ Jason Heyward running out to right field for the first inning of the first game of the season Friday, carrying the city’s flag with him. Hard to top that.
That it was Heyward, and that he held that flag, represented more than just baseball, of course. An African American player of prominence — the first, and for several moving seconds the only, Cub on the field — would represent the team’s stated embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement and would do so while showing love to a city in turmoil.
It was pitch perfect, and it was very much in tune with the symbolism and metaphors that are everywhere you look in baseball, whose restart is — viewed without cynicism, inasmuch as that’s possible in 2020 — a grand embodiment of “the show must go on.”
The Show is going on. Ready or not. Sensible or not. Pandemic or not. Recognizable or not, too.
The Cubs and Brewers played before an otherwise empty Wrigley Field, which is not only weird and unfamiliar but also sadly emblematic of all that’s missing in our pandemic-hit society, all the things we took for granted that suddenly are too dangerous or burdensome to share in and put on one another.
Fans gathered in tiny groups outside the iconic Wrigley marquee in the hours before the game. Ballhawks — a few of them — waited on Waveland and Sheffield Aves. for batting-practice homers. Gallagher Way sat vacant. With Phase III guidelines reinstated by the city as of 12:01 a.m. Friday, bars and restaurants surrounding the ballpark did little business. The very occasion of a Fridaynight game at Wrigley was an oddity, too.
With limited seating on rooftops, the fans up there seemed at once part of it all and yet discomfitingly far away. If only they could’ve been as close to the action as Cubs pitchers Jon Lester and Tyler Chatwood, who watched the first inning from the left-field bleachers — why the heck not? — before opting for a couple of club-box seats in Section 13, Row 14 behind the home dugout.
Lester and Chatwood were a strange sight. A symbolic one, too, as nothing about this is normal to the players. It’s “The Twilight Zone” meets “Stranger Things” meets
“Baseball Tonight” with a briefing by Dr. Anthony Fauci playing in the background.
And speaking of Fauci, the ageless immunologist, infectious-disease expert and national treasure, his pregame first pitch Thursday before Game 1 of MLB’s season — Yankees at Nationals — was as metaphorically spot-on as it was wide of home plate. Look, the man simply needs to flatten his curve a bit. Besides, isn’t it his job to make sure no one catches anything?
And then there were the torrential rain, lightning storm and flagpole-shaking wind that forced the Yankees-Nationals game to be called early. It was almost like somebody was saying, “Really, baseball? You’re sure you want to do this?”
This is as good a time as any to point out that pitcher Kyle Hendricks was off-thecharts good in the first Opening Day start of his fine career. For nine shutout innings, Brewers hitters were flummoxed by his masterful fastball-changeup-curveball combinations. Come to think of it, that’s inaccurate. They weren’t really hitters at all.
See? We can talk just about baseball, too. The season has started, after all.
One more bit of figuration, if you’ll allow it. It involves the number 202, which is the channel on Xfinity where fans can find the Marquee Network thanks to a deal that got done in the nick of time before Opening Day. I saw that in the news — the No. 202 — and for some reason found myself counting 202 days ahead on the calendar.
How different might things be then? Well, in that many days, it’ll be late in the second week of February. Very possibly, it’ll be the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Arizona.
God, I hope so. ✶
In a symbolic moment, Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward takes the field carrying the flag of Chicago.
Fans watch from the rooftops across from Wrigley Field as the Cubs open against the Brewers.