The whistle will sound, a ball will be a kicked and life will return to … what, exactly? Not normal. It’s silly to even suggest that, to think a mirror can be held up and we will see early March staring back.
The idea of a “new normal” sounds trite, too, because we haven’t established camp at some mythical destination. This wretched pandemic is surging, not loosening its grip. Life has become way too complicated, so let’s keep this simple and in narrow context: A Twin Cities team will play in a live contest Sunday evening for the first time in what feels like forever, and I can’t help but think how nice it will be to just sit down on the couch and watch a game again.
Minnesota United gets first crack among our local sports teams in resuming play. The Loons are scheduled to play Sporting Kansas City at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, exactly four months to the day when the sports world shut down.
I write “scheduled” because nothing in our COVID-19 world is guaranteed, especially as it relates to restarting sports. Two MLS teams already have withdrawn from the tournament because of internal outbreaks.
But assuming United’s match goes off as planned, a creature comfort will return to our regularly scheduled programming. No offense to cornhole and lawn mower racing (two things I actually paused to watch while channel surfing during quarantine).
Other pro leagues will soon follow.
Football? That one seems particularly daunting.
No sport is risk-free. Even being sequestered inside a protective “bubble” did not prevent the spread of the coronavirus for two MLS teams.
I’m excited but anxious. Anxious about the safety of those involved and whether this will really work. It’s just hard to know whether this test run will last a week, a month or make it to the end without another forced stoppage.
People often embrace sports as a diversion from the real world. An outlet that allows you to turn off your brain for a few hours and enjoy competition. The seriousness and uncertainty of what’s happening in the world and what’s to come won’t magically vanish, but the thought of being entertained seems awfully appealing right now.
“Our fans have been starving for this,” United midfielder Ethan Finlay said by phone from Orlando. “I think there will be people who don’t watch much soccer or don’t know much about soccer, they’re going to be tuning in because it’s the only thing live on TV. At this point, I think most people have gone through every Netflix show.”
United coach Adrian Heath said safety is his No. 1 concern and he appreciates his team being contained in a “bubble within a bubble” in Orlando. But he also sees an opportunity for his sport to lift people’s spirits.
“This has taught us how much we love and miss sports when we haven’t got it,” Heath said.
Games without fans will create a strange vibe. There is something about hearing a crowd roar inside a stadium — even when watching on TV — that makes the experience feel more real. Now it will be like watching a game with the sound turned off.
No complaints, though. I’d watch a baseball game played on Mars. I know others feel differently.
Chris Tritabaugh is the golf course superintendent at Hazeltine National and an avid sports fan. He particularly enjoys soccer and auto racing. He has watched those sports on TV since they have returned and found “a little bit of this hollow aspect to it.”
“I don’t know how it’s going to feel to sit and watch a Twins game,” he said. “Am I going to feel like, ‘Hey this is OK’? I’m really glad that there is something to kind of pull our attention away? Or am I going to feel like this is too frivolous, there’s too many serious issues right now?”
Tritabaugh plans to watch United’s match with his two young daughters. Like many of us, he’s had a few nights sitting in the backyard with his wife, enjoying the nice weather and wishing they could listen to a Twins game on the radio.
“It does make a person realize the power that sports have to affect our mind-set,” he said. “Sports are sort of that one thing maybe where you kind of go, ‘Hey, there’s a game tomorrow.’ We all know that feeling, where you’re excited about this game or this match or this race. It’s been weird to miss that.”
Life isn’t any less complicated, and we don’t know yet how successful sports will be in returning, but we finally have a game to look forward to again. That’s a nice feeling.