in Commentary

Sports world on hold with social distancing


We all have things we look forward to each and every year. But due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have taken an unprecedented and unpredictable turn. In other words, everything has been put on hold, until further notice.

While we all maintain our social distancing efforts and some of us shelter-in-place, the sports world came to a month-long sustained screeching halt shortly after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic March 11, the first such declaration in 11 years.

It began with the NBA suspending its season March 12. Then, the NCAA stunned the sports world by cancelling all remaining spring and winter championships, which shockingly included March Madness – the men’s and women’s basketball national championship tournaments.

The dominoes continued to fall when the NHL also suspended play. Then one of professional golf’s great traditions and the PGA’s first major tournament of the year – the Masters – was postponed, and the Boston Marathon delayed its race until Sept. 14.

And then, the real bombshell felt around the world went off. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, scheduled to take place between July 24 and Aug. 9, were officially postponed until 2021 by the International Olympic Committee last Tuesday.

But here’s the buzz, sports fans. There’s still hope that not all has been lost.

For me, the COVID-19 impact on the sports world began hitting where it hurts when the MLB canceled the remainder of spring training March 12, and delayed Opening Day by “at least two weeks.” With the originally scheduled MLB Opening Day coming and going as ballparks remained empty last Thursday, it became clear that “at least two weeks” would not be nearly enough.

As a veteran Texas Association of Sports Officials high school baseball umpire, the shutdown hit home when the UIL suspended all spring academic and athletic activities March 16. To support the health and safety of students and communities across Texas, the UIL announced the news as I walked off the field with my partner from an early afternoon game.

“We are urging our member schools and their communities to stay vigilant and take every possible precaution to remain safe and healthy,” UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt said. “We understand there is a lot of uncertainty during this unprecedented time. Please know UIL leadership is working diligently to adjust to this rapidly evolving situation and will share updates as soon as possible.”

In Texas, shutdowns have occurred only twice before due to two pandemics involving the H1N1 influenza virus: the 2009 swine flu pandemic and the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Although UIL officials postponed all public high school athletic and academic competitions in 2009, Texas schools returned to action after a two weeks layoff. But in 1918, activities were halted in early October and did not resume throughout the remainder of the school year.

But of course, we were just getting started.

On the heels of Gov. Greg Abbott proclaiming a public health disaster in Texas for the first time in more than 100 years Thursday, the UIL extended its suspension of all UIL-sanctioned activities indefinitely due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Texas. In addition, all contests, practices, rehearsals and workouts will remain suspended until further notice.

But with the next breath, the UIL stated, “At this time, the earliest games and contests may resume is Monday, May 4. Prior to this date, the UIL will allow its member schools a reasonable acclimatization period for rehearsals and practices to occur.”

And with that statement, the UIL showed it was not ready to pull the plug on the winter and spring academic and athletic activities just yet.

“We are working diligently on contingency plans to conduct state championships in each of the activities that have been suspended,” said UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt. “While the immediate future is unclear, we are committed to providing these much-desired activities to all Texas students and will prepare for all possible outcomes, including extended school closures.”

While hope remains for the Texas high school sports seasons, likewise for the MLB season.

At the moment, Opening Day has been pushed back until mid-May at the earliest. While it remains very likely baseball fans will have to wait longer than that, MLB owners and players remain committed to playing as many regular-season games as possible, leaving open the possibility of the schedule going into October and the postseason being played into November.

With that said, rumors suggest that the beginning of the season could start around late June or July, around what would have been the All-Star Break.

For me, the wait for the 2020 season will have been worth it, though. Then, and only then, the drama that has engulfed my beloved Houston Astros with the sign-stealing scandal can finally be put to rest.

While many will be throwing down on the Astros, both literally and figuratively, I will be rooting for Houston – under the watchful eye of the legendary manager Dusty Baker – to rise above the boos once the season begins. The uber-talented core of George Springer, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, along with future Hall of Fame pitchers Zach Greinke and Justin Verlander will indeed step up and put aside the alleged cheating scandal.

Anticipation. It’s making us wait. But in the end, the wait will be well worth it.

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.