Confession time: I never thought a video of a pelican strutting on a sidewalk to Rick Ross’ “Hustlin’” would register any sort of emotional response from yours truly but here we are, fist-pumping in the air for sports’ return.
Chalk that up to 2020. Because after months of no baseball or basketball, seeing an old familiar post on Twitter from the New Orleans Pelicans account felt, dare I say, euphoric. After the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Brooklyn Nets in a meaningless scrimmage last Wednesday, that infamous strut by that pelican on social media put a big ol’ smile on my face. And that smile lasted through a heavy sports-centric weekend.
The following night forced the entire sports world to pause and pay attention to Major League Baseball and its opening night. And baseball came back with one of the best pitching matchups the sport could offer between Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer.
Sadly neither pitcher grabbed the headlines the following day. Nope, that honor was reserved for another person who took the mound on opening night: Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Fauci made an injudicious decision to throw out the first pitch for the Yankees and Nationals. As the ball, um, curved well out of reach of home plate, you could practically hear Harry Doyle in your head shouting, “Juuuuuuust a bit outside.”
After jokes were made at Fauci’s expense, we did get back to the diamond with baseball games throughout the weekend.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the weekend was the MLB and its broadcast partners’ attempt to try and normalize empty stadiums across the country.
ESPN’s broadcast felt the simplest but most effective, as the company set a murmur backdrop similar to what you’d hear in a soccer stadium. That, along with the stadium piping in music and crowd noise from the video game, “The Show,” made for a pleasant viewing experience.
FOX tried to do something a little different with virtual fans, but because they were on screen less than half of the time, it felt far too gimmicky. Your eyes could never adjust to seeing virtual fans in the crowd because as soon as you started to trick yourself into thinking real people were there, the broadcast would then reveal to you that it was in fact still an empty stadium. Plus, any time they did a close-up shot of the virtual fans, it was like watching bad CGI in a major blockbuster. It took you completely out of the moment.
As for the actual play on the field, Atlanta Braves slugger Marcel Ozuna homered with two outs in the ninth inning to send Atlanta into extras with the New York Mets Saturday. And because the new rules allow a base runner on second base to start those extra innings, the Braves took full advantage in the 10th with three runs before ultimately winning 5-2.
After the Cleveland Indians lost to Kansas City in extras, pitcher Mike Clevinger, who allowed two runs through seven innings for the Indians, took to Twitter to express how “whack” the new rule is.
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a runner to second off the back end of a bullpen?!!!”
Clevinger also spoke with reporters after the game and said, “This isn’t travel ball.” Tell us how you really feel, Mike.
Baseball wasn’t the only sport that returned last week, though. The NBA hit the courts for scrimmages, and those aforementioned Pelicans got it done with some impressive victories in those scrimmages.
It’s funny. Two scrimmage victories and basically every Pelicans fan on Twitter essentially declares that against their better judgment, New Orleans is going to win it all. Of course, most of these comments (at least I hope) were done tongue in cheek.
The sports weekend wrapped with the UFC’s final fight card on “Fight Island,” set in a makeshift Octagon in a recently built arena in Abu Dhabi. The most newsworthy event that transpired Saturday night was Robert Whitaker edging fellow middleweight contender Darren Till in a back-and-forth technical fight. This puts Whitaker right back in middleweight title contention, but if I’m being honest, this wouldn’t be all that newsworthy under ordinary circumstances.
And that’s the point.
Routine sporting events have suddenly become newsworthy after four and a half months of scarce options to watch. For the first time in months, we had options to choose from when it came to sports. The UFC wasn’t the only show in town like it has been for the majority of the pandemic. Instead, baseball had regular season games going into extra innings and basketball had preseason matchups that delighted with visuals like a Ben Simmons 3-pointer or a Bol Bol block.
I look forward to the hopefully soon future when routine play becomes less newsworthy. For now, I’ll consume as much of it as humanly possible as it offers that nostalgic feeling of the good ol’ times.