Dreams on hold
Waiting to enter a season on the verge
So this isn’t how I imagined this would go — and I say that realizing full well this makes me in no-wise unique in the world today. None of these days are going how any of us intended them to. For all the corny metaphors of pristine vision the year 2020 offered up, we stare blinkingly into the coming days, weeks, months as through a glass darkly, with no way of knowing when the familiar joys and comforts and the verities we’ve learned to count the years by will return to us.
Today was to have been Opening Day for minor league baseball — a festive and raucous day in my house, a day I normally lean towards in eager anticipation. Firing up on my MiLBtv subscription early in the day, I’ll maybe catch some Lehigh Valley in the afternoon, some Rochester or Syracuse or Gwinnett, the early East Coast start times — all while awaiting my first sight of the year of the lineups Richmond and Augusta have to offer. Sweet anticipation of delights! A high holy date circled on my calendar for months beforehand. If you’re reading this, you no doubt know that for several years running I’ve emerged on this day from a long winter’s nap to begin rolling out my personal passionwerk — a comprehensive chronicling of the daily odysseys of the San Francisco Giants’ minor league farm system.
But not in 2020…or at least not yet. It’s an eerily silent spring this one — a spring of cessation, not a bursting forth.
A month ago I was busily preparing to launch a new venture — this new venture — bringing my work on the Giants’ farm to this Substack platform and asking you to join me here for what I thought would be a fascinating journey. I was eagerly preparing for an annual trip to spring training to visit the backfields at Indian School Park and my first in-person sights of Marco Luciano, Luis Matos and more — a trip that never came this year (like so many of your trips, I imagine).
A minor league year that already promised an existential threat looming at its conclusion ran into an entirely different one at its origin. And at this point there’s simply no way of guessing when minor league baseball might come back or what in the world it might look like when it does.
There are many outside of the industry (and now inside it as well) who believe that prospect development is an area that is ripe for disruption and improvement and for those this Coronavirus-year may well provide an unlooked-for labratory. Will teams be able to work with players during the year with virtual, remote development tools that work biomechanical or pitch shaping improvements during work stoppage? And if they do, what might the result of that work be when minor league games do start back up. Will we recognize what comes back to us?
All of which dovetails with the other huge unknown, the future of the Professional Baseball Agreement that governs relations between major and minor league baseball owners. Between the cash-flow difficulties that minor league owners (and Players! and staff!) are already finding themselves in and the tone of anger and recrimination that has taken over the PBA discussions, it seems very likely at this point that minor league baseball will be reconfigured a year from now whether it returns this summer or not.
What might that transformation look like? Will short season ball still exist? Will the franchises we’ve followed for years still be in the fold? Or will some new experiments in player development begin that undermine the minor league landscape many of us love dearly — even while we may admit the shaggy nature of that landscape?
In the grand scheme, none of this matters, of course. Wins and Losses on the field count for naught when people are facing real losses at home — loss of income, loss of business, loss of secure sources of food and health, loss of life.
And yet here I come, wanting to write about it and feeling somewhat stupid about wanting that. But on my desktop always, I have enshrined a famous quote from the peerless Roger Angell that expresses so much of what I feel for the game:
What I do know is that this belonging and caring is what our games are all about; this is what we come for. It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look – I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring – caring deeply and passionately, really caring – which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté – the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the hap hazardous flight of a distant ball – seems a small price to pay for such a gift.
And so I still want to follow and to write because I still want to care — even about something trivial, even hap hazardous as Angell would have it, because I find my caring about it so gratifying.
Originally, of course, my plan was to launch a call for subscribers here, but that seems silly and callous now — for those of you who still have discretionary funds at this point it would be much better to find ways to support your local businesses and workers. But I will still mark the outlines of the season by writing about the Giants’ system — I’m thinking of regular posts Monday, Wednesday, Friday starting next week with all posts available to everybody until the known world returns to us and there are games to cover again.
But I can’t pretend to have figured all this out — through the glass darkly, right? And I definitely am open to knowing what would be as interesting for people to read as for me to write. Deep dives into the system — at least as deep as we can get in the current circumstances. That’s for sure. But what else? Memories of prospects past — on this day in prospect history? Roger’s exploits in learning R? I’d love to know what you’re interested in seeing, so please comment if there’s anything in particular you’d like to hear about.
I’ll try to find interesting angles, maybe play around with some cool new tools, dig into some video and try to figure out what the players — not to mention the development professionals like Kyle Haines and staff — are doing to keep development happening in this bizarre interregnum.
But in the meantime, I’ll just leave this here… Happy non-Opening Day everyone! May there be better days to come in all our futures. We miss you baseball!