With no sports, community spirit, shared emotions are quarantined too

Mike KnaakColumn, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. JosephLeave a Comment

With friends and family out of work, sick or even dying, writing about something as seemingly trivial as the loss of games and sports appears out of place, if not insensitive.

Now as the grass is turning green and the stay-at-home routine enters its second month, the loss of sports can’t be ignored.

Opening golf courses two weeks ago reminded me about what’s not open – baseball diamonds, soccer fields and tennis courts.

The missing diversions of sports, so important to many of us as participants and spectators, took another hit last week when the Minnesota State High School League canceled all spring sports including state tournaments.

The same week, the Minnesota Baseball Association indefinitely postponed the amateur baseball season. But the association says, “Once the governor says go, our games can start the next day.” No spring training needed for these guys.

As a long-ago high school sports participant and a not-so-long ago parent of high school athletes, I know the loss of the spring season for high school athletes is a huge disappointment.

For seniors, the loss is particularly sad for many of them who know that high school is their last chance to play competitive team sports. The hope for one last shot at competing in a state tournament quickly vanished.

Minnesota’s spring high school sports season is always a gamble because late snowstorms or cold snaps often scramble the schedule. But most athletes never imagined an entire season gone.

Central Minnesota is a hot bed of town team baseball. Just about every Stearns County town fields a team among the 300 or so teams throughout Minnesota. A summer Sunday afternoon just is not right without a game.

In my long career as a newspaper photographer, I enjoyed photographing the action and antics of amateur players. Throughout the years, I shot generations of the same family playing ball. I couldn’t believe I got paid to do such enjoyable work.

My sports photo assignments included two World Series, a Super Bowl and Stanley Cup, but many of my memorable photos are from the state amateur tournament.

Our daughters played school and club sports all through school offering my spouse and me a year-round schedule of soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball. (Until you’ve watched a junior high softball game, you really can’t appreciate the wisdom of the 10-run rule.)

When our daughters went on to college, we again became big-time sports fans with season tickets to Gopher football and Minnesota United soccer and a package of Twins tickets.

Now the Twins and Loons are sidelined. Their schedules still hang on our refrigerator, a daily reminder of what we’re missing. Even the Gopher football season is a question mark.

In the past few weeks, I’ve read about plans to restart the summer sports season. There’s speculation that baseball games could be played in empty stadiums with fans only watching on television. Or maybe, “quarantine” all teams in a location with clusters of parks such as Florida or Arizona, realigning the leagues to match available stadiums and playing a shortened, televised season. Instead of home-plate umps, technology would be used to call balls and strikes and maintain social distancing.

The PGA plans to restart its tour June 7 with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth Texas. The golfers will play without fans on the course. I’m bored to death watching golf on television and I rarely tune in. Rather than watching golf on TV without a gallery, I’d have more fun sitting on a hill at Blackberry Ridge watching the action. At least I’d be able to catch some sun and fresh air.

What will it take to open up the stadiums to thousands of fans? Will we be sitting three seats apart and wearing masks? What about eating hot dogs and drinking beer?

Don’t view those concerns as entirely trivial. For many of us, sports offer the community connection and shared experience we’re missing, especially as the grass grows green.

Author: Mike Knaak

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