"It was all I lived for, to play baseball."
— Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet
Strange, it is, to talk about opening day in late July — nearly August already.
But it is here, opening day. A shortened 60-game season began Thursday with a couple of games. For most teams — including local favorites the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals — the first games of this strange season are today.
There are some new rules and safety protocols. There will be no home run high-fives and no spitting or chewing of tobacco or sunflower seeds. The latter is probably good public health practice whether there's a pandemic or not. Saddest of all, there will be no fans packing stadiums. What will baseball be like without those fans? Eerie. It will be weird to watch a home run bounce around off empty seats.
Still, this nation managed to play baseball the year the Spanish Flu struck; Ty Cobb hit .382 that year and did even better the next.
We played baseball during the Great Depression, when Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx were belting out homers and offering their own kind of escape for the country.
Also during World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt endorsed playing baseball in a letter in January 1942 that he wrote to Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It is remembered as the green-light letter.
"I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.
“And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before."
Missouri got the best of the deal when the Browns and the Cardinals met for the all-St. Louis World Series in 1944.
We played baseball during other tumultuous years, such as 1968, which witnessed assassinations, the Vietnam War, riots and protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It also was the year Hal McRae made his Major League debut, as did Freddie Patek and John Mayberry, who would all soon make their mark on a new expansion team being organized that year in Kansas City.
“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.”
— Terrence Mann, in "Field of Dreams":
Baseball, we're glad you're back.