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The Year Without a Summer

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Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

We had a good run, didn’t we? Five games, two good, not too shabby. The 2020 season was nice. I watched all of about three games, maybe not even those three beginning to end. I would look in on the games, catch little bits here and there, but only about twice did I sit down and watch, really watch, the way I have every other year of my life prior to this one.

It was never real. Just like the rest of this horrid year, baseball never really came, never really mattered, never really existed. It was nice to have the dream of baseball while it lasted, but here we are, the first week of August just passed, usually the beginning of the dog days, and we’re looking at a team decimated by a virus (actually more than decimated, but I won’t be that guy who pushes his glasses up and um, actually’s the definition of decimate, promise), and a season that seems more and more like both a bad idea and a fading dream.

Summer has come and nearly gone, and there has really been no baseball. And if there is no baseball, there is no summer. There is still a season, of course, but that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. The boys of summer, the dog days of summer, Frank Sinatra singing “Summer Wind” in a Mastercard commercial from somewhere off in the distant past, summer nights marked by radio broadcasts, Jack Buck’s voice pouring from open front windows on every street in the city, the rolled down driver’s side window of every car sitting at every stoplight. There was no summer this year, there will be no summer. Even if the season marches on, it’s not a real season. It’s a cruel reminder of what we don’t have, a pale imitation, a zombie staggering through the streets, blasphemy masquerading as life. At no point will this season bring the kind of enjoyment, the kind of uncomplicated love, that we look for from baseball.

Have I ever told you all how much I love Christmas music? I’m sure I have at some point in the misty past of this website; at one point or another I’ve talked about hundreds of different subjects, and even used to assemble musical playlists to go with each of my posts. I’m sure it’s come up. I listen to Christmas music, almost exclusively, from the moment it comes on the radio (usually right around the beginning of November), until there is no more Christmas music. Most stations end the day after Christmas, which always bums me out, but some go right through to New Year’s, which is much better for me. Year after year, I never really get tired of these same songs, and I drive everyone in my life a little crazy with the incessant drumbeat of holiday cheer.

It’s the same with baseball. Every year, from the moment pitchers and catchers report until the moment the World Series ends, I eat and sleep baseball. I never get tired of it, even if the games are all variations on the same form, one after another, stacked atop one another forever up and down in our memories. I’ve written a couple bibles’ worth of words for this website since Halloween of 2007, endlessly considering just one team over and over from every angle I can think of. Yes, I know more about baseball than most people, and yes, I have a much wider base of Christmas songs I listen to than most people, I’m sure, but in the end, it is still the same thing night in and night out, the same songs, the same tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, year after year. And I don’t mind. When I turn on the television at seven o’ clock in July, my old friend is there. When I flip on the car radio heading into work on the third of December, there is a comfortable old favourite waiting for me to sing along.

Adventure is wonderful, and novelty helps keep life fresh. But the love of the expected is what really makes life worth living. Wanting, and then getting, exactly the thing you know is coming, is such a big part of life. Going to a new restaurant can be great. Eating your favourite meal is better.

This year, the expected love of a baseball game to watch every night, that constant companion of April to October, never showed up. It might still, but it won’t be the same. Nothing about this awful year has been the same. The creeping nihilism that is my essential nature (cheerful nihilism, usually, but there all the same), has had no obstacles in 2020, and my mental health has, I will honestly say, taken a huge hit. I suspect many of you reading this are in the same boat. Not because I know you, or suspect anything about you as a person, but because we’re all here because we love something, the same thing, and it’s been taken away this year. That’s just the way life is sometimes, of course, but I have to wonder if life is worth living when everything that makes it worthwhile is gone, or put on hold.

Years ago, I found myself, much to my surprise, in a long-distance relationship. I lived in Missouri, she lived far away. I still live in Missouri, she still lives far away. I didn’t plan on falling for someone halfway across the country, but I did all the same. Our relationship consisted primarily of a chime bringing with it a new message, drip drip dripping all day long. It was addictive in a way I was not familiar with, even having been a minor expert on addiction for most of my life. A normal relationship allows you to see and speak with the person you love at virtually any moment; this was waiting for a fix, minutes or hours at a time, a small bell announcing the next chance for interaction, a short moment of anticipation at what someone has to say. Usually it was something along the lines of, ugh, cleaning up cat puke again, which is not the most romantic thing in the world, admittedly, but that never seemed to matter.

The relationship ended in November, just as I was really beginning to ramp into my enjoyment of Christmas. The chimes stopped, and something inside me broke. I don’t know that it’s ever healed, honestly. Suddenly the hours of silence waiting to hear from someone far away turned into hours of silence waiting for...nothing. I remember a friend of mine trotted out several cliches to try and make me feel better; I was drinking quite a lot, and was a fair wreck most of the time. He pulled out what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’ve never believed that. What doesn’t kill you still kills you, just slowly.

This year has been waiting, endlessly, for nothing. I’ve never stopped working through the whole pandemic, from the beginning of March and the first shutdowns to today, and for that I am vaguely thankful. I have had no monetary concerns whatsoever, which is certainly good news. And yet, I have also not enjoyed a single moment of this year that I can think of, at least since everything went to hell. Every festival I usually attend with my mother has been cancelled, my girlfriend and I have gone nowhere despite her having far more time off than she ever has before. I have worked, and I have gone home. There have been no trips, no vacations, no restaurants, no shopping. Day after day of grey waiting for the world to start up again, and every night there has been no baseball. No phone chime, no anticipation, nothing to write about, nothing to enjoy. Maybe if you’re not the sort of person who loves the expected, the endless distractions of life that keep you out of your own head, maybe this sounds ridiculous. But then again, maybe not.

There has been no summer this year. I never want to live through this again. Someday pitchers and catchers will report again, some far off chilly February day, and the shocking green of spring training will delight us all anew. But that day is not today, and not tomorrow. What we have this year is self isolation and positive tests and cancelled series and piped in crowd noise and empty seats and no story ideas and nothing at all good. Nothing real, nothing to love, the expected has come and then been yanked out from under our feet, and it very well may be again at any moment.

I miss baseball.

I miss summer.