An asterisk next to MLB’s 2020 champ would be plain wrong: ShermanJuly 2, 2020
Beginning Friday in earnest, a phalanx of talented, tested marathoners will begin altering their training to better mentally and physically handle a 10-mile steeplechase.
The distance skills will still be valuable. Ten miles is no quick jaunt. But the obstacles are novel and who handles them best will define who wins the race. It will also define how those who win the race react. Which I expect will be with whatever is the equivalent of a champagne clubhouse party amid a pandemic.
Because what major league baseball players will face this year is not tradition, but it is tougher than ever. Shorter in this case hardly means easier. Thus, whichever teams navigate this obstacle course of a major league season will feel an asterisk, they will feel substantial achievement in making the playoffs, the World Series and for one organization emerging as the champion. Yes, the champion.
They will feel this way because of the proviso that will be associated with every story about any sports league attempted amid a pandemic — if it starts, if it finishes. The challenges to body, mind and discipline will be intense. There is no sugarcoating it. This is not familiar, this is not how champions normally emerge. But the team that emerges from this is going to have weathered enough to call itself a champion.
“I feel like a lot of people say that there’s gonna be [an asterisk] next to this championship. I feel like, at the end of the day, this is gonna be the toughest championship you could ever win — because the circumstances are really, really tough right now.”
You know which player said that? Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“I think whoever wins [this year] should [have an] asterisk next [to] it. But only for it being one of the toughest championships ever won. [You’re asking guys to take 3-4 months off, then come back and find chemistry, etc. Then play during a pandemic, while players are fighting for the BLM [Black Lives Matter].”
You know which player said that? Rockets guard Austin Rivers.
Different sport. Same sentiment.
The length is shorter, but the road tougher. Ten miles is to 26 what 60 games roughly is to 162. But now imagine all the hurdles and water jumps. Just the longest regularly competed steeplechase is 3,000 meters, a bit shy of two miles. And in this analogy — with all that will have to go right to play a major league season — imagine that the hurdles come with barbed wire and the water jumps with crocodiles.
Danger is being undertaken by those trying to play a major league season with COVID-19 cases climbing, not falling in this country. It is why this needs to be considered opt-in, not opt-out for the 2020 season. Anyone who doesn’t want to play owes no one an explanation unless they want to be heard. Here is the explanation: There is a pandemic. Period.
If you showed up for the in-take testing this week, you are at the outset of changing so much of your typical behavior to journey through a major league season. Imagine now that part of the landscape is not only testing every other day, but anxiously awaiting results.
On the field this weekend, times for the group will be staggered, distance demanded. Baseball bodies and brains are normally embracing the game-day pageantry of Independence Day weekend right now, readying for an All-Star break before the kick to the finish line.
Instead, the familiar touchstones of the marathon will be altered. It will challenge the mind and discipline as those involve work to avoid infection that threatens themselves, coworkers and family — and perhaps even threaten to shut down an attempt to continue playing.
Every day those running the sport and those involved are going to be asking themselves: “Is this proper, is this wise, is this safe?” The answer will never be easy. Every game completed will feel like an accomplishment. The familiar camaraderie of clubhouses, travel and group outings that help make the marathon more enjoyable and memorable are gone. So are crowds that help players get up for games. No waves. No autographs. No standing ovations.
New routines to run this race will be formed. Ingenuity will be tested on how to feel bonded when proximity is discouraged. Those that adapt to the new abnormal will have an edge. And every day those involved will wonder if this is the last day of the season right up to — if they are fortunate to get there — the last day of the season.
It is why if they get there the winners should get a trophy. Not an asterisk.
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