Baseball has been called America’s pastime; maybe that’s why I watched opening day with so much solace, joy and hope this year.

Around the country, we are hearing “play ball” for baseball, football, basketball and other sports.

However, during a raging pandemic, we must also play smart and safe. And if that means shutting everything down, then that’s what we must do because the games we love are played by flesh-and-blood people.

In the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones plays the fictional writer Terence Mann, loosely based on J.D. Salinger. Jones’ character is kidnapped by an Iowa farmer, Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner.

Kinsella built a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield where the 1919 Chicago Black Sox are given another chance to play the game they loved after being kicked out of baseball for allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series.

Inspired by a dream, Kinsella convinced Mann he needed to visit the field and write about it. As the movie draws to a close, Mann watched this very peculiar baseball game and its even more peculiar players.

Paying attention to the dramatic intersectionality of sport and life play out before him, Mann offered a keen insight into the significance of life interceding with baseball. He eloquently painted a portrait of Americana, emphasizing the shaping and reshaping of sport and life.

Addressing Kinsella, Mann remarked, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.”

As baseball opened its season last week, those words echoed in my ears. I was surprised at how emotional I got watching the game of my youth.

Now, I have to admit I am not the biggest baseball fan these days. I played the game all my life, even having the opportunity to play in college. So, after playing for such a long time, I gravitated to other interests and sports.

However, as opening day approached last week, I found myself noting the start time of the first game between the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees.

As I tuned in, baseball provided a much-needed balm for the wounds afflicted so far this year. From a global pandemic to confronting the evils of racism, watching baseball reminded me that while sports often mirror life, they can also transcend and transform it.

Watching players from the Nationals and Yankees kneel in solidarity during the National Anthem reminded me of that day in 1947 when Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers strolled to first base during the National Anthem.

His teammate, Jackie Robinson, was the target of jeers and racial slurs. The crowd bombarded Robinson because he was the first Black player in the league.

Reese put his arm around his teammate, both shaming and silencing the crowd. The gesture was a reminder that America needs sports because players can teach us valuable lessons about life.

From Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick, athletes remind us that while we love our sports, we must never forget those playing the games are real people living within life’s hard realities.

Their voices and actions teach much-needed lessons. Ali once said, “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”

Super Bowl Champion and Kansas City Chiefs star Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is making his days count. Duvernay-Tardif is the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season due to the risks and needs of the pandemic.

Instead of blocking for the Chiefs on Sundays, Dr. Duvernay-Tardif will be on the frontlines in a hospital fighting COVID-19.

He released the news on Twitter, “Being at the frontline during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system. I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus in our communities simply to play the sport that I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients.”

As baseball and other sports begin their seasons, the safety and health of players and employees should be paramount.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball announced the postponement of several games due to COVID-19 infections after seven players and two coaches from the Miami Marlins tested positive.

Major League Baseball remains uncertain about what lies ahead for the season.

Fans want sports to resume; some even arguing that it’s a much-needed symbol demonstrating America’s resolve and a continuation of the economy reopening. Yet, it’s easy for fans to gamble when their health and lives are not on the line.

The stark reality persists that COVID-19 does not care how much we love sports or how great our resolve might be. The disease does not consider what we need or a booming economy.

COVID-19 will continue to spread unless we take precautions and make decisions based upon the common good. And yes, that may mean shutting down sports altogether until a vaccine is available.

George Will, a political columnist and avid baseball fan, once wrote, “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.”

We need sports to once again show us the way, to dream dreams larger than ourselves. We need men and women on the field and court to invite us into their worlds, demonstrating the necessities of teamwork and importance of good strategy.

To build off the words of Terrence Mann, “Sports is a constant within American life, revealing both our worst and best natures.” However, when sports and athletes get it right, they lead the way to societal transformation by inspiring the better angels within us.

The very best plays this season may be those occurring outside the lines: standing in solidarity to combat racism and yielding the field when public health is at risk.

Sports still have lessons to teach; I just hope they lead with wisdom, compassion and courage. At the end of the day, we are all on the same team.

Photo: Universal

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