Under different circumstances, Rick Rizzs would have been bubbling with enthusiasm Thursday — turned up to an even higher boil than normal from a man who thrives on undisguised zeal.
I was lucky. I got a command performance of Rizzs’ “Everybody scores!” fervor during a phone call earlier in the week that broke the monotony of his — and my — stay-at-home existence. For everyone else, they’ll have to wait, who knows how long, to hear the baseball voices of spring and summer that provide the context, companionship and fabric of many of our lives.
“Opening day for me is like Christmas, New Year’s and the Fourth of July rolled into one,” Rizzs said. “It’s a holiday for me — the rebirth of a new season, with all the hope and anticipation of a new year.
“It’s so much fun to drive to the park on opening day with a smile on my face. I couldn’t wait to get there, to see the excitement of the fans, sing ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame,’ do a little countdown. It’s a baseball tradition, but lives have come to a screeching halt.”
So they have, and so they must, as the sports world has been shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak. But that doesn’t mean we can’t lament the fact that, in normal times (that are getting harder to remember), Thursday would have kicked off the 2020 Major League Baseball season.
You can look it up, right there on the pocket schedule hanging from a magnet on the refrigerator.
Or maybe that’s just me.
March 26. TEX. 1:10.
That part of the magnet calendar is silhouetted in blue, which means it’s a home game at T-Mobile Park. But, of course, the ballpark that would have been bustling with 40,000-plus fans (for one day, at least) now sits empty, like so many buildings.
You can snark about how terrible the Mariners were going to be and make the same tired jokes, that sporadically attended Mariners games are the perfect place to practice social distancing. But even the cynics can’t help but get caught up in the daily cadence, the ongoing soap opera, of a baseball season.
Instead, Rizzs on Thursday was at his home in Issaquah, doing what he’s been doing for the past couple weeks — “cooking and watching bad movies,” he said with his trademark cackle, adding, “You have to laugh; if not, you’re going to cry.”
Meanwhile, another longtime Mariners voice, Dave Sims, is at home with his wife in Manhattan, midtown East. He looks out his window in amazement as the bustle and controlled chaos of New York City is reduced to eerie isolation. As we talked on the phone, Sims described a lone soul on the sidewalk.
“It’s bad when you’re doing play-by-play of dudes walking down the street,” he said.
Rizzs can relate. He told me of a shopping outing with a friend after spring training was shut down but before home-quarantining was a thing.
“I was at a pottery store in Surprise, Arizona, doing play-by-play of us shopping,” he said. “My friend said, ‘Keep going! I want to hear more.’ ”
We all want to hear more, but the grand old game, like so many other things, has been silenced. It’s not high on the list of priorities in these trying times, merely another stark reminder of how normalcy is being re-adjusted on the fly.
So Sims will keep looking out his window on what is a gorgeous, sunny day in New York and think, “I want to be out there and can’t do it.” He’ll keep looking at his computer, soaking up all the news of the day and satisfying his baseball itch by watching YouTube highlights of old World Series.
It started with 1964, Cardinals and Yankees, “but you know how when you start looking at baseball, one thing triggers another. I watched the 1965 package featuring our late, departed friend, Ron Fairly, who had a great series. Then I started looking at 1976 Game 4. It salves my baseball jones for an hour or two.”
In 1985, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post published a series of baseball essays in a book famously entitled, “Why Time Begins on Opening Day.” It’s a stretch to say the absence of this event has halted time, but it certainly symbolizes how long-familiar rhythms have been disrupted.
On opening day, Boswell wrote, ”life is once again restored to us in its fullness, and in its absence the feeling of diminution is inescapable.” He went on, “In contrast to the unwieldy world which we hold in common, baseball offers a kingdom built to human scale. Its problems and questions are exactly our size. Here we may come when we feel a need for a rooted point of reference.”
You might scoff at such high-minded poetry, especially now, but I’d take a rooted point of reference right about now. And I sense I’m not alone in that longing.
“At this stage, anything to do with baseball, I’m more than willing to watch and talk about,” Sims said. “Old-timers talk about how it gets in your blood — it really does. It’s such a routine-based way of life. It just feels weird. It was ready for it (opening day) until 13 days ago.”
Rizzs recalled how he and the late Dave Niehaus, the legendary Mariners voice, would always look forward to getting on the plane to spring training. And even more so for the first game that counted.
“There was joy in our heart — baseball was here again,” Rizzs said.
That joy will come, eventually. But not Thursday, despite what the schedule said. So it’s back to the kitchen for Rizzs.
“I had pot roast yesterday,” he reported. “Home-made meatballs today.”
Yeah, I was listening to Rick Rizzs do play-by-play on his cooking. And I felt like saying, “Keep going! I want to hear more.”
Laughing to keep from crying.