This, that and the other

My optimism is growing that baseball will be played later this summer. Which in the past has meant nothing because I can become skeptical again in a matter of seconds. But it appears that progress is being made toward spring training 2.0 and an opening day in July.

Contingencies are in place in case it doesn’t happen, which I’ve heard from people who are close to the game. Have to be prepared for both scenarios.

I’m still not buying the argument that fans will never return if there’s no baseball in 2020. That it will do irreparable harm.

I heard the same thing after a strike forced the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, and there was no pandemic to blame for it. Meanwhile, the sport kept setting attendance records.

I understand that arguments over money are a bad look (and sound) for people who are out of work or furloughed or just struggling. But I still believe that, with the usual exceptions, of course, damage to attendance is going to come more from fans who simply can’t afford to spend on entertainment or can’t rationalize doing it. Not because they’re angry about ownership and players arguing over revenue sharing.

hays-with-fans-orange-spring-sidebar.jpgYou’ll always find fans who claim they’ll stop going to games because of player salaries, steroids, greed, work stoppages, the removal of their favorite beer at ballparks. And some of them stick to it.

Some of them.

Let’s not act like the sky is falling here. More fans will storm the gates, as long as they feel safe, because they’re starving for baseball and want to feel normal again. Get back into their routine.

The pandemic is an extreme complication. I’m pretty sure that most fans don’t need to have it explained. Starting a season isn’t as simple as just saying, “OK, let’s do this.”

Baseball won’t look the same in 2020 and the loss of revenue and a minor league season hurts every organization. The cuts run deep. But the sport is going to survive. It’s proven to be quite durable.

Let’s take a poll here. How many of you would stay away forever if the season is cancelled and how many would at least try to attend as many games as usual?

Maybe you’d refuse to go to the ballpark, but would watch the games on television or listen on radio. Maybe you’d pretend that the sport vanished and never give it an ounce of your attention. I’ll need full explanations.

* Former Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga made it back into the news earlier this month by wishing again, this time in an interview in The Athletic, that Major League Baseball would credit him with a perfect game from 10 years ago.

Umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base after Galarraga retired the first 26 batters. Joyce felt terrible about it and Galarraga forgave him. But he hasn’t forgotten.

What does Galarraga have to do with the Orioles? He also resides in the land of the forgotten after signing a minor league deal with them in January 2012.

He barely made it out of spring training. The Orioles released him during the first week of April.

Galarraga signed with the Astros and made the last five starts of his major league career.

The Venezuelan right-hander registered a 7.20 ERA in 10 exhibition innings before the Orioles released him from their Triple-A roster to make room for left-hander Dana Eveland. He hadn’t thrown a pitch for Norfolk.

* Looking back on that spring training, other top stories included the arrival of Dontrelle Willis and Ronny Paulino’s car, an unexpected appearance by slugger-turned-agent Gary Sheffield (whose client, pitcher Josh Banks, never made it out of minor league camp) and former Oriole Jason Johnson’s unexpected bullpen session as he attempted a comeback.

Pitcher Dennys Reyes agreed to a minor league deal and abruptly retired, or so we were told. Nobody checked on it.

We found Matt Antonelli, Jai Miller, Scott Beerer, John Hester and Oscar Villarreal. We never saw Dane Sardinha, but we did see Jon Link, who would have made for a clever headline if he had been missing.

Catcher Michael Ohlman flipped his truck, was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury and was suspended 50 games for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program for a second time. His major league career has consisted of seven games with the Blue Jays in 2017. He played for the independent Somerset Patriots in 2019.

The 2012 season went a lot better for the Orioles than their spring training.

* If you want Dan Straily’s take on what it’s like to pitch in the Korea Baseball Organization with no fans in the seats, tune into HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” tonight at 10 p.m.

Straily, whose last major league appearance came on June 18 with the Orioles, admitted that he missed the crowd.

“Of course,” he said, according to an excerpt emailed to the media. “Like, even if you’re on the road and people are just telling you how much you suck, you thrive off it. You feed off that energy.

“My shortstop dove for a ball and he missed it by, like, an inch. Like, it was an incredible effort. When he hit the ground, I heard the air leave his lungs. And we’ve talked about that in the dugout, because I’ve never once in my life heard that.”

* I have a second favorite concert moment to share as I close out this article, and it’s become more special to me within the past year. Thanks for indulging me.

I joined three of my childhood friends at the old Painters Mill Theatre in Owings Mills for a Crack the Sky concert. I’m guessing that it was held in 1980, a year shy of my high school graduation. And the year that the band released the album “White Music.”

What’s important here is that we loved the band - Baltimore basically adopted it as its own - and the album. I also owned the cassette tape and wore it out. But our familiarity with the members was limited. We wouldn’t have known any of them if they entered our homes and joined us for dinner. They were just names and voices.

We sat in our seats and waited for a song to be performed that we’d recognize. One of my friends kept yelling, “Play White Music!”

We realized later that it was the opening act.

“Play White Music” became a running joke. We’ve repeated it many times. But the source is no longer around to enjoy it.

The rest of us gradually lost touch with him, accepting an invitation to a wedding reception at his childhood home in the early 1990s and never again hearing from him. We’d get together and always vow to find him, doing internet searches that offered promise but eventually failed us.

One friend contacted me last summer to say that he found an email address and wrote a message to him. It went unanswered. Then I got a shocking text saying that the latest search turned up an obituary from about five years ago.

He passed along a phone number that he thought might belong to our friend’s mother, who used to drive us to the bowling alley and movies and put up with our shenanigans at her Severn home. You know how it is. Your friends’ parents sort of become backups to your own.

I hadn’t seen her or talked to her in more than 20 years. I worked up the nerve to make the call while pacing outside the press box - she has to be in her 80s now and is living in Florida - and check whether she remembered me and would confirm what I dreaded. She did, going into great detail and thanking me for giving her the chance to talk about him again. It felt like we were comforting each other.

“He talked about you guys a lot,” she said.

My friend, who I knew since elementary school, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Doctors finally found a medication that worked for him, but he was breaking down physically and they took him off it.

He pleaded to stay on it and said he’d sign a waiver, but they refused. And one day, unable to silence the demons, my friend walked into the woods with a rope.

I think of him every time I hear Crack the Sky. Or an opening act.

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