click to enlarge Miami Marlins outfielder Matt Joyce. - PHOTO BY DANIEL A. VARELA/MIAMI HERALD/TNS
Photo by Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Marlins outfielder Matt Joyce.
Baseball returned last week.

I'm a casual sports fan – wake me up when playoffs arrive, and I don't much care who wins or loses so long as the game is good. I feel the same about hockey and basketball and football and beach volleyball – any competition is worth watching if it is close or the stakes high, and especially if Boston is beaten (I do not know why I hate Boston, but I do). Has there ever been a better moment in sports than on Feb. 27, 2005, when Jennifer Jones proved you can jump joyfully on ice and not fall after nailing an impossible shot to win the Canadian women's curling championship?

Being a casual fan, I neither fretted nor anticipated the start of baseball, it just appeared on television one day along with The Shawshank Redemption and umpteen zillion episodes of Chopped. This looks something different, I thought, and it was.

The ragtag band dubbed the Dodgers Sym-Phony that once serenaded Dem Bums at Ebbetts Field was OK, I suppose, and I have nothing against "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," but one thing leads to another to the point that one cannot hear oneself think whenever the action pauses, with songs ranging from "Hotel California" to "Sicko Mode" blasting while players approach the plate. But that was last year.

I didn't hear music blare while taking in parts of three games, the best being a contest between the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels. The A's prevailed with a walk-off grand slam in the 10th, which is rarer than a no-hitter. There were sounds of dugouts and diamonds as players shouted and clapped, occasionally beating out fake crowd noise. Games, which in recent years have exceeded three hours in length, seemed to move more quickly, without batters always stepping out of the box to scratch whatever.

More players, managers and coaches wore masks in empty stadiums than folks I've seen in grocery stores. Instead of high-fives and fist bumps, elbows and forearms touched. I saw no goofy mascots, but I did see an argument, with both ump and manager masked up and staying a safe distance apart, which precluded kicking dirt.

Baseball, I thought, might be better, or at least more civilized, without fans. Now, I am not so sure.

Three days after Dr. Fauci threw out an opening day pitch, word arrived that more than a dozen Florida Marlins had tested positive and Phillies were at risk. I felt fooled by the curve. No matter how good it looks or sounds, baseball can't stop germs, especially with teams – what they heck were they thinking – jetting from one big city to the next. A couple months ago in Springfield, I got the result back within hours of being tested. Now, they say, it takes days for millionaire ballplayers to learn whether they should take the field or go to bed.

It is hard, sometimes, to know whom to believe. When it comes to a return to normalcy, we should trust baseball owners and players as much as we ever have.

MLK revisited: Got an email recently from Robert Moore, who reminded me that the statue of Martin Luther King Jr., now at the corner of Second and Capitol, once stood in the Capitol rotunda for a year, then was moved someplace inconspicuous, and then moved again, to its present spot, in 1993, after African Americans called for a more prominent location, as House Speaker Michael Madigan is now doing. Some folks, including me and Secretary of State Jesse White, think the statue, which cost $25,000, isn't worth keeping. Fine, writes Moore, who helped lead the effort to move the statue to where it is now: If politicians don't like it, let them pony up $300,000 for a new one. Perhaps not a bad idea. Aesthetic questions aside, King was right-handed and wore his watch – he favored a Rolex – on his left wrist. That's not how he's depicted in bronze across the street from the Capitol, where the King statue shows the civil rights leader with his jacket slung over his left shoulder, held by his left hand. If you're right-handed, try it. Not even close to a natural pose.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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