There are many ways to measure the impact on our lives of the COVID-19 virus over the past year. We begin, of course, with the nearly 17,000 deaths in Massachusetts caused by the virus.
There are also the many ways in which dealing with the virus has disrupted lives in ways that were previously unimaginable. Traditional holiday family gatherings were canceled, and cherished activities like going to the movies, theater and concerts vanished behind shuttered doors.
Sports fans felt the loss, too. The Boston Red Sox were in spring training when the coronavirus brought the world as we knew it to a halt. A shortened season eventually took place with games played in disturbingly empty ballparks and COVID outbreaks among players disrupting and threatening to end the season prematurely.
Today, the Major League Baseball season begins in a spirit of cautious optimism that each team will play a full slate of 162 games. Vaccinations are ramping up across the nation, but sadly, COVID cases are ramping up as well, with too many states prematurely lifting mask mandates and other disease-fighting measures and too many Americans acting is if the fight has been won when it definitely has not.
The Red Sox open at home against the Orioles this afternoon, and with the approval of the Baker administration, fans will be welcomed into Fenway Park at 12 percent of full capacity. Masks must be worn and social distancing measures will be instituted. The Sox hope to allow more fans to attend games in the future, but that won’t happen if infections exceed injections.
Meanwhile, deep in the heart of Texas, the Rangers plan to fill their 40,000-seat stadium in Arlington to capacity for their home opener against the Blue Jays next Monday. Fans will be required to wear masks when not eating or drinking, which is unenforceable given the number of people in attendance, along with Gov. Greg Abbott’s skepticism if not outright opposition to the wearing of masks. And there can be no social distancing in a packed stadium.
This could be a superspreader event waiting to happen — which the Rangers have acknowledged in essence. After opening day, the organization will reduce capacity to 50 percent, a tacit admission that it is behaving irresponsibly on opening day and hoping for the best.
Putting the pandemic aside, there are games to be won and lost. The Boston Red Sox were so bad in 2020 that the shortened season was a blessing for fans across the Berkshires and state. This year’s squad should score plenty of runs, but a shaky pitching staff may give up more. Berkshire Yankee fans have another powerhouse team to root for as the Bronx Bombers go after their first World Series title since 2009.
Fans of local baseball will welcome the Pittsfield Suns of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League back to Wahconah Park this summer after a season’s absence due to COVID. Also returning to action this summer after a lost season are the North Adams Steeplecats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
Everyone is fed up with the pandemic. The opening of baseball season offers hope, as it always does on a variety of levels. The completion of a successful baseball season unmarred by major virus outbreaks among teams and fans may signal that by fall the nation will have gained the upper hand over COVID.