Way back Wednesday: Remembering the Lost Art of the Postcard

Editor’s Note: I wrote this column on the lost art of sending postcards back in March 2013. During the current climate of COVID-19, as well as the attempt by some to disrupt the United States Postal Service’s mission to ensure that, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” it seems appropriate to reflect on the connection people can feel through the mail.

It is also important to remember the old AT&T telephone jingle to “Reach out, reach out and touch someone,” during this time of COVID-19 to let people know you are thinking about them.

Of course, in the current COVID-19 climate, any reaching out should be done from a safe social distance. In the meantime, please enjoy this column as part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature.

In this age of instant messaging, e-mail, Twitter, and other ways to communicate at the speed of light, it may come as a shock to some of the younger readers that there was once a time when correspondence was not handled as quickly.

Before the days of Facebook, it was not possible to post a status while on vacation to all of your friends to let them know that you were “Having a great time exploring the world’s largest ball of twine.”

Instead, when you were at that ball of twine, and you wanted to let your friends know how much fun it was before seeing them again in person, you had to buy a postcard and actually place it in something called a mailbox. Your friends would than receive the postcard, and your thoughts on the ball of twine in a few days.

Yes, I know mailboxes still exist, and based on what comes in mine they tend to be a conduit for junk mail and bills alone.

As such I now only check my mail a couple times a month; since there really isn’t anything worth reading that would require me to check it any more frequently.

Once upon a time mailboxes served as a window to communicate with the world. Today, mine mostly serves as a place for junk mail and bills.
Photo R. Anderson

I have made a career out of writing. I was able to made the transition from writing for print publications, to writing for electronic platforms.

For the most part, writing is writing. There will always be a need for clear content to be communicated regardless of the changing platforms as technology moves forward.

While I know that the ways people communicate has changed, sometimes I find myself feeling a bit of nostalgia for the written word and the simple act of receiving a post card through the mail.

Part of this nostalgia was the result of looking through my postcard collection the other day to help remember the name of somewhere that I went on vacation many years ago.

I ended up finding that postcard and my memory was jogged. Looking through the box, other memories were set free as well.

Many of the postcards in my collection were sent to other family members before I was born and were just passed down to me; but several are actually addressed to me. One particular series of cards was the result of a chance encounter on an airplane.

When I was in third grade, my mom and I were on a flight from Washington D.C. to Orlando, FL. There was an older gentleman in the row with us (of course when I was that age everyone was older, so my memory of how old he really was may be warped).

As it was a relatively long flight, we ended up making conversation. Over the course of the conversation, he mentioned that he did a lot of traveling as part of his work with the Army.

I do not recall the whole scenario of how it occurred, but addresses were exchanged and he mentioned that he would write me from his travels.

The postcards did not always include a message but this is typical of the type of message when they did.

In this more jaded world that we find ourselves in now, the chances of a stranger getting the address of a young child under the guise of sending correspondence would probably be less likely to occur.

I for one have become way more suspicious of people’s intentions the older I get.

While it is certainly good to be skeptical, and careful of one’s surroundings, and those that enter them, I sometimes wish that I could see the world through younger me’s eyes when the world was a far less scary place. Back then, the only things I needed to worry about were which pair of pajamas to wear, and how many days until I could ride my bike to the 7-Eleven to check out the latest comic books, or buy a pack of baseball cards.

A few weeks after returning home, I got my first postcard from the man on the plane. The postcards continued for several years, and always included a short note about the destination included on the front.

One of the postcards my pen pal from the plane sent me.

The cards stopped one day, which could have been the result of many factors including the forwarding address feature no longer working, or perhaps the man behind them was no longer able to send the cards for whatever reason.

While I do not remember his name, I do remember the simple act of sharing postcards with a wide-eyed child and the effect that had and continues to have. I have no way of knowing if that man on the plane is even still with us.

If he is, I hope that he is well and is still able to take those wonderful trips that sparked my imagination so many years ago.

But those postcards, as well as the others I received from friends and family, helped me see parts of the world that were harder to see in the pre-internet days and certainly helped nurture my love of traveling.

Some 30 years later I still fondly recall the postcards from my pen pal. Tweets and e-mails will not hold up as well through the decades I imagine.

Today, thanks to the internet, if I want to see a picture of something I need only type it into a search bar and before long I will have more pictures to look at than I could ever hope for.

The Internet has opened the world up to us but in some ways it has also made us more alone than ever before.

I often think about other chance encounters and people who come into our lives for a brief moment and the impact that they have on us. Had my mom and I been seated in any other row on that airplane, I would not have received the postcards.

When I was in Journalism School, one semester my professor assigned the class a project to go to the food court at the mall and observe people. The point behind the assignment was to make note of the various interactions of people coming and going in order to imagine various scenarios as to what brought them there. To this day, I still enjoy people watching.

The next week, the same professor assigned us to go back to the same food court and find a stranger to interview. The point of the exercise being that everyone of us has a story to tell. The trick is to know the right questions to ask to get the ball rolling.

While the memory of the man on the plane will probably not make me any less cautious than I am, since the world today is so much different than it was all those decades ago it is still a nice memory and shows that we all do have stories to tell. The key is to just be open to hear them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I am going to find a food court and see if my interview skills are still as sharp as they once were.

Copyright 2020 R Anderson

Summer Hockey is a Small Silver Lining in an Upside Down Sports Year

If anything can be said of the 2020 sports landscape, let it be said that 2020 has been a season like no other.

From fan-free stadiums and Ballparks, to playing sports in a bubble, sports fans are truly seeing things they likely never thought they would see. Of course, due to social distancing they are seeing it from a safe distance which most likely means from their couch.

One of the biggest treats I have discovered during this upside-down season is summer bubble hockey.

Normally I would be fully engaged in the Major League Baseball (MLB) season this time of year. However, thanks to COVID-19 taking a sledge hammer to the schedules of the major sports leagues, the National Hockey League (NHL) is fully engaged in the quest to crown a team worthy of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup meaning the “Boys of Winter” are now the “Boys of Summer,” at least for this season.

Washington Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin is seeking his second Stanley Cup Finals victory. Unlike previous years, thanks to COVID-19 The Capitals and the rest of the Stanley Cup eligible teams are playing hockey during the summer while quarantined in either Toronto, or Edmonton.
Photo R. Anderson

To say that I am enjoying summer hockey would be the same type of understatement as saying that I enjoy breathing.

While breathing is a mostly automatic factor that I take for granted, I had no idea how much breath I would get out of four hockey games a day.

With teams safely quarantined in either Toronto, Ontario or Edmonton, Alberta, there are literally back to back to back to back hockey games on almost every day.

That is like a hat trick of hockey plus an overtime period. Or stated in a more Canadian way, it would be like ordering poutine and learning that the chef made too much, and, instead of throwing away the extra he is giving it to you at no extra cost.

The Vancouver Canucks have given their mascot, Fin, something to cheer about; albeit from a social distance and outside of the Edmonton bubble. The Canucks have a two games to one lead over the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues
Photo R. Anderson

It should be said that I am totally sorry that it took a global pandemic to create summer hockey. COVID-19 is a horrible disease that I am ashamed to say the United States government has not done enough about.

Over 170,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 at the time of this writing. That is unacceptable. Each and every one of us should be holding our elected officials accountable for the way it was mismanaged.

Also, the rush to reopen schools, with zero coordinated effort, is already generating the type of results that anyone paying attention to the way germs spread could have told you would happen.

A week after returning to on campus classes, the University of North Carolina is shutting down in person learning and going back to online instruction due to outbreaks of COVID-19. Of course, UNC was quick to point out that even with students learning remotely have no fear the Tar Heels are still on track to play football in the fall, and travel from city to city with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the important things, the bulk of the country has seemed to embrace a “let them eat cake” philosophy. Although instead of cake as the tone-deaf refrain, it is let them play football.

Playing hockey in two arenas where players are quarantined, is a completely different matter than allowing college football teams to go from town to town to bring people enjoyment on the weekend.

MLB has shown that playing outside of a bubble and traveling is a perfect recipe for catching and spreading COVID-19.

Stand up if you had summer Zamboni rides on your 2020 Bingo Card. Thanks to COVID-19 a winter sport is now a summer sport as the NHL seeks to crown a Stanley Cup Champion from inside the bubble.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, the proponents of playing college football are likely to say that there is way less physical contact in football than there is in baseball. So the ability for the virus to spread won’t be as high, oh wait…

As I have said many times, I love college football. I would love to be watching college football when September rolls around. However, we are not in a position where that would be wise to do.

I also don’t see us magically getting the case count of COVID-19 to a low enough level in the next four weeks where playing college football is a wise thing to do.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that she wished that the United States had shut down and managed the virus in the same way that Italy did. Perhaps if the task force she is in charge of had made a stronger case for that, people would have listened.

Instead, America did a halfhearted shutdown before opening things wide open in time for Memorial Day. I mean why let a global pandemic get in the way of a three-day weekend, right?

As anyone who pays attention to how trends work could tell you, the levels of COVID-19 went up faster than a high stick in a hockey rink; and all of the gains made during the brief shutdown were lost.

Instead of a unified approach to the virus, some Americans wore masks and socially distanced, while others called the virus a hoax and said wearing a mask infringed on their civil liberties. Seriously?

When did doing what is right for the greater good become a political statement?

It looks like COVID-19 will continue to rage until there is a vaccine since some people cannot bring themselves to wear a mask. As a result, I will continue to enjoy bubble hockey from the safety of the Gigaplex.

I would love to be back out in the world doing the things I did before March of 2020. However, with around 1 in 4 people around here infected with COVID-19, and with so many unknowns about the long-term impacts of the disease, I am choosing to stay safe by limiting the number of things I do outside the Gigaplex. And when I do venture forth, I wear a mask and keep a safe social distance from those around me.

In Texas, very few people seem to be wearing masks. I guess they are still thinking they are immune. Either that, or they enjoy playing an extended game of Russian roulette. After all, I believe one of the conspiracy theories being spread on the misinformation superhighway is that wearing a mask takes away your Second Amendment rights.

That would be so worthy of a face palm, although as part of being COVID-19 aware we are not supposed to touch our faces. So, a virtual face palm will have to do.

The next NHL season is supposed to begin in October. Whether that season begins in two bubbles in Canada pretty much rests on what we do over the next two months to take COVID-19 seriously.

As much as I love bubble hockey in the summer, I really would like to attend sporting events in person again.

I am wearing a mask and doing my part to make that happen. What about you?

Now if you’ll excuse me, my Kraft Dinner is waiting.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

COVID-19 Continues to Impact the Newspaper Industry as Five Tribune Newsrooms go Fully Remote

Last week I noted that many journalists are working remotely from bookcase filled mini newsrooms as a result of COVID-19.

For some print journalists, those remote at home locations will turn into their permanent bureaus as some newspapers look to jettison their brick and mortar holdings in favor of an all remote workforce.

This week, Tribune Publishing announced that the physical offices of five newspapers it owns will be closed permanently in response to COVID-19, as well as a changing newspaper climate.

In making the announcement Tribune Publishing noted in a statement that, “Out of an abundance of caution we do not anticipate having employees that can work remotely coming back into the office for the remainder of the year and into 2021. With no clear path forward in terms of returning to work, and as the company evaluates its real estate needs in light of health and economic conditions brought about by the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close these offices.”

The five newspapers going fully remote are the Daily News in New York City, The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, the Orlando Sentinel in Orlando Florida, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the Carroll County Times in Maryland. The papers join a growing list of newspapers that are rethinking their business model.

At a time when solid journalism is needed more than ever to bring facts to the masses and debunk false claims from people in power, more than 50 local newsrooms in the United States have closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the journalism think tank the Poynter Institute.

For years the Orlando Sentinel has had a remote newsroom at Kennedy Space Center’s Press Site. With the announcement that the Sentinel’s parent company is moving out of the main headquarters, one has to wonder whether a move out of remote bureaus like the one at KSC can be far behind.
Photo R. Anderson

Additionally, a UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media report discovered that, “since 2004, the United States has lost one-fourth, or 2100, of its newspapers.”

The study went on to state that these resulting “news deserts” mean that “more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties and equivalents now have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible and comprehensive information on critical issues.”

Consider that fact as people try to figure out whether schools are safe enough to send their kids back to, or if the COVID-19 virus is getting corralled, or is still raging out of control.

Granted, there are still television networks and online news sources to fill some of the void, but for many people the local newspaper is their lifeblood for getting the news that matters to them.

The newspaper industry is far from the only business segment that is likely to consider the cost benefits of shedding their real estate holdings in favor of a remote workforce. However, the announcement that newsrooms would be closing permanently hit me particularly hard.

I grew up reading the Orlando Sentinel, and at one point thought I might work there. Although to be fair, I totally preferred reading Florida Today and the Tampa Tribune over the Orlando Sentinel.

Still, the Sentinel building was a beacon of First Amendment freedom whenever I would drive by it. It was empowering to think of all of the journalists inside those walls working hard night in, and night out, to deliver the truth.

When I was growing up my dream journalism job was to be on the space beat for Florida Today and work out of their press site at KSC. In 2015, the building that I had wanted to work at for so long no longer bore the newspaper’s name on it.
Photo R. Anderson

I even worked with, and competed against, many of the members of the Sentinel’s Sports Staff in my years covering high school and college athletics in and around Orlando.

So although I was never an employee of the Sentinel, I knew many people who were, and still are.

The mighty offset presses inside the Sentinel building went silent about three years ago. Like many papers, the Sentinel outsourced their printing to third parties as a way to cut costs. For the Sentinel, that meant a switch to a printing press about an hour away from downtown Orlando.

I know that the heart of a newsroom is made up of people, and not a building. However, it was the proximity of the people in that building that created the buzz and collaboration that makes journalism work.

When I was 16-years-old, I got my first professional newspaper job as a sports stringer for the Sanford Herald. For an aspiring journalist such as myself, the Herald newsroom was like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory without all of the chocolate and the singing.

Most of the reporters had already gone home by the time I got to the newsroom to write my stories, but the building was still alive with the sports staff, the photographer, and the team that ran the presses.

All these years later, I can still picture the cluttered desk of my first editor and the stacks of paper and other things that he had accumulated through the years surrounding it.

Looking around the cluttered desk I am sitting at while writing this, I suppose I subconsciously picked up that trait.

Aside from memories of cluttered desks stacked high with newspapers, I can still close my eyes and smell the unmistakable odor of newsprint and ink that filled the air. If the First Amendment was a cologne, to me it would smell like newsprint and ink.

The hands-on instruction I received from at the Herald proved invaluable to me in my writing career. Aside from learning the craft of writing on deadline, thanks to those Friday nights in the newsroom I also cannot listen to Edie Brickell & New Bohemians without thinking of the deep thought meditation quote taped on the wall above the editor’s computer.

Through my own years as an editor, from press box to press box, and newsroom to newsroom, I have sought to impart knowledge the same way to the reporters and other people I have managed as the way it was imparted to me all those years ago in a dusty and cramped newsroom in Sanford, Florida.

While I am all for the ability to file stories from the press box to avoid a long cross county drive back to the newsroom, there are definitely times when meeting face to face in a newsroom is critical to honing one’s craft.

It is hard to think of remote video calls having the same impact as actually seeing one’s colleagues face to face.

Of course, I realize that sounds somewhat hypocritical of me to say since I have been basically working remotely for years, and have loved every minute of it.

If the rate of newspaper closures continues at the current pace, it is quite possible that soon the only newspaper boxes one sees will be in Christmas villages and old movies about the glory days of print journalism.
Photo R. Anderson

Still, it is different to work from home and know there is an office to go to from time to time, versus having the office sold and knowing that working from home is the only option.

When I first heard the news of the Sentinel closing their offices, I did what any good reporter would do and researched whether any of the newsrooms I had worked in were still in the same buildings that they were when I worked there.

I already knew that one of the newsrooms I worked in was gone. That newspaper merged with another paper and closed. As a result, I was laid off since the merger made me a redundant employee.

The paper I worked at before the one that merged is still in their same building. That led me to dig deeper and explore the weekly newspapers I worked for at another community chain.

Much to my surprise the entire 20 newspaper chain went from having newsrooms in each of the communities it served, to having one office and half the staff. They also sold the building that had the only printing press in the chain and joined the outsourcing trend.

That brought me back to the Herald, where my professional newspaper career began. Like so many of the other papers I had worked for, the Herald also left their long time building for a smaller facility that did not have a printing press attached to it.

The results of my research revealed that only one of the six newsrooms I worked in is still in operation at the same location it was in when I worked there.

The consolidation of the newspaper industry, and the media in general, will have long lasting effects on the ability to deliver impactful stories that make a difference in communities both small and large.

I know I am biased towards the need for a free and independent press to perform the duty of the Fourth Estate and hold leaders accountable, while also printing the scores of the local youth sports leagues.

COVID-19 has taught us that the need for clear and honest journalism is needed now more than ever. Unfortunately, with so many local newsrooms counting on funding from local businesses to operate, many more newsrooms are likely to go dark in the weeks, months and years to come as advertising revenue shrinks.

I can take solace in the fact that although Tribune Publishing closed five newsrooms, they did not fully shutter the newspapers altogether. Unfortunately, not all newspapers will be as lucky.

COVID-19 did not create all of the funding issues for local print journalism, but it definitely didn’t help slow the spread of the demise of independent voices.

Now if you’ll excuse me, in honor of that quote on the wall in the first newsroom I worked in, I am off to ponder whether what I am is what I am, and whether you are what you are or what.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dinosaurs can Teach Us a Lot About Sports and Pandemic Response

Like many other kids, when I was growing up, I loved dinosaurs.

Show me a picture of a dinosaur and I could tell you the name of the species in question, as well as whether it was a plant loving herbivore, or a meat loving carnivore.

Although my favorite dinosaurs were the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops, I celebrated the entire catalog when it came to the world of dinosaurs.

Although my favorite dinosaurs were the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops, I celebrated the entire catalog when it came to the world of dinosaurs.
Photo R. Anderson

In turns out that my fascination with dinosaurs was not limited to my youth.

I recently completed an online course called Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology, that was offered by the University of Alberta. If the course taught me anything, it is that I still like dinosaurs as much as I did growing up.

It also taught me that a lot has changed in dino science since I was a kid.

So, why do I bring up dinosaurs you may ask?

As we all know, dinosaurs are no longer with us. While scientists may argue about the specifics of how it happened, they all agree that except for fantasies portrayed in cinematic parks of a Jurassic nature, dinosaurs are very much extinct in this day and age.

That got me thinking about the ongoing debates related to the wisdom of playing sports in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

As we all know, dinosaurs are no longer with us. While scientists may argue about the specifics of how it happened, they all agree that except for fantasies portrayed in cinematic parks of a Jurassic nature, dinosaurs are very much extinct in this day and age.
Photo R. Anderson

Thankfully, we are likely to have a vaccine, therapeutic treatments, or at the worst herd immunity against COVID-19 before things would reach an extinction event level scenario.

However, the fact remains some people are ignoring the virus, and trying to act as if there isn’t a huge asteroid heading towards them.

Major League Baseball (MLB) ignored the science, and is paying the price through player and staff outbreaks in their non bubble approach to the season. Recently, it was noted that MLB may look into a modified bubble approach for the postseason.

The NHL and NBA are just two of the leagues that have shown bubbles work. The MLB and the rest of society could learn a lot from their example.

Of course, despite the growing evidence, and the growing COVID-19 outbreak, some sports are appearing to be as dense as a dinosaurs armor plating when it comes to evolving their thought process on the reality of the disease.

Consider the world of college football as the next battleground in the “to play or not to play” debate. While some college football conferences are canceling their fall seasons, there are others that are either waiting until the last possible minute to cancel, or are somewhat convinced that a miracle will occur and the heavens will open up to allow them to play football.

Of course, despite the growing evidence, and the growing COVID-19 outbreak, some sports are appearing to be as dense as a dinosaurs armor plating when it comes to evolving their thought process on the reality of the disease.
Photo R. Anderson

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy football. I especially enjoy college football.

As mentioned previously, one of my favorite things to do on Saturdays in the fall is to get up and watch College GameDay followed by watching football games until late into the night.

The idea of a fall without football is certainly a tough thing for me to consider, but as the late Wilfred Brimley would say when he was selling oatmeal on TV, canceling college football is “the right thing to do.”

To be clear, football, even limited conference schedule only football, has no business being played in the middle of a global pandemic.

Of course, since college football is more business than educational endeavor, that is exactly the argument being made for why college football must be played.

Put bluntly, the argument for why some schools are determined to play is because there is too much money involved to just walk away.

Lost in all of the noise about needing to play college football in order to make all of that sweet, sweet cash, is the fact that college athletes are not paid. Also, college athletes do not have the same protections as professional athletes when it comes to negotiating their rights to opt out of the season without penalty.

Talk about a prehistoric concept.

I spent several years of my career working in collegiate sports information offices. As such, I have a bit of an idea of the inner workings of a college athletic department.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to surge like a tidal wave heading towards an unsuspecting beach, my first thought was there is no way that any college athletics program will want to risk the lives of their students just to make a few bucks.

Yes, there are college athletes who want to play football. However, there are also athletes who are worried that playing football this season will result in long-term health effects, or even death. I figured the adults in the room would choose athlete safety over profit.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Although some conferences have done the right thing and delayed and/or cancelled their seasons, The Big 12 and Southeastern Conferences (SEC) are promoting an “ignore the rising death count, we are here to play ball” approach.

It is likely not a coincidence that the Big 12 and SEC schools are mostly located in cities and states that are treating COVID-19 like a hoax. Many people in those areas are refusing to wear masks, or social distance and are promoting wild conspiracy theories that might even make the writers of the X-Files say, “That’s some crazy stuff right there.”

Perhaps if the athletic departments at those schools left their multimillion dollar facilities and walked to the science departments on the other side of campus, they might get a better idea of why playing football in the middle of COVID-19 is not really a good idea.

The sad thing is, that if everyone had just buckled down in March and not prematurely reopened for Memorial Day the spread of COVID-19 would likely be contained to a level where playing college sports could be handled safely.

Perhaps if the athletic departments at those schools left their multimillion dollar facilities and walked to the science departments on the other side of campus, they might get a better idea of why playing football in the middle of COVID-19 is not really a good idea.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, that is not what happened, and so we are worse off now than we were back in March.

Going back to our dinosaur example, some scientists have hypothesized that had the asteroid that hit near the Yucatan Peninsula, resulting in the death of 75 percent of the earth’s species, hit almost anywhere else on the planet the dinosaurs likely would have survived.

While we can’t bring back the dinosaurs, it isn’t too late to get a handle on containing COVID-19. That is where the focus should be. We should not be worrying about what to do on Saturdays if there is no college football to watch.

The Chicxulub asteroid didn’t stop to ask the dinosaurs what they ate. It wiped out both the herbivores, and the carnivores with equal reckless abandon.

Likewise, COVID-19 attacks the people in blue states, as well as the people in red states.

Or, to put it in college football terms, COIVD-19 doesn’t care if you want the Tide to roll, or if you think that it is time for someone else to build a dynasty on the gridiron.

There will be a time to play college spots again, but first we really should get the raging wildfire under control. That should be something that even the most bitter of college rivals can agree on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to see if I can extract some DNA from this mosquito I found in a block of amber.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

The 2020 MLB Season is Rolling on Like a Tarpaulin Over a Wet Field

To say that the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season has been full of challenges would be an understatement.

The season has consisted of one challenge after another with little sign of slowing down.

For starters Spring Training was shut down in March. Then, when the season resumed two months later, teams were faced with a grueling 60-games in 66 days schedule.

Due in no small part to a shortened Spring Training, several marquee players have had their season cut short due to injuries.

To make things even more interesting, a handful of teams are battling outbreaks of COVID-19 that are causing games to be postponed at an alarming rate.

Those teams that are lucky enough to play games are doing so in empty Ballparks in front of cardboard fan cutouts and the sounds of pumped in Ballpark noise.

This is even the type of season where no hitter bids are ended by routine fly balls getting lost in the air by normally competent outfielders.

To put things mildly, this is a season where anything can and will happen.

With all of those challenges, the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals likely were just happy to be at the Ballpark on Sunday.

The Orioles were ahead 5-2 when the tarp started rolling Sunday in a game against the Washington Nationals. Normally that would mean that the game would be called and the Orioles would be declared the winners. Nothing about the 2020 season falls under normal conditions. So, of course the game fell under a little used wrinkle in the rule book related to faulty equipment and was suspended instead of called official.
Photo R. Anderson

That all changed in the sixth inning when a rain shower in the Nation’s Capital provided some comic relief; while also showing just how crazy this season, and for that matter entire year, really is.

Raise your hands if you had, ground crew struggles to cover the field with a tarp on your 2020 Bingo card.

If you did have that on your Bingo card, congratulations since that is exactly what happened at Nationals Park.

In perfect conditions, the grounds crew can roll out a tarp and cover the field with the precision of a well-choreographed ballet.

In less than perfect conditions, like Sunday’s Orioles and Nationals game, a grounds crew can struggle for more than 15 minutes to get the tarp across the infield while allowing the field to turn into a muddy mess.

After a two-hour, eight-minute delay to try to get the field back in playing condition the umpires declared the field unplayable and suspended the rest of the game.

Under normal circumstances, the game would have been deemed official. According to the MLB rule book, any contest that is called after 15 outs have been made when the visiting team took the lead in the previous inning or earlier is deemed an “official game.”

If the rain delay comes before 15 outs are made, when the game is tied or in the same inning that the visiting team took the lead, it is suspended until a later date.

The Orioles were ahead 5-2 when the tarp started rolling. Normally that would mean that the game would be called and the Orioles would be declared the winners.

Nothing about the 2020 season falls under normal conditions. So, of course the game fell under a little used wrinkle in the rule book related to faulty equipment.

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinklers on game day.
Photo R. Anderson

The tarp that the Nationals’ grounds crew attempted to use was tangled up in its roller like a string of Christmas lights. As such, it fell under Rule 7.02 of the MLB hand book which reads that any game that is called as a result of “light failure, malfunction of, or unintentional operator error in employing, a mechanical or field device or equipment under the control of the home Club” must be picked up at a later date.

The tarp and the roller are considered a field device and as such due to the inability to deploy said device properly the Nats live to play another day.

“We couldn’t get the tarp on the field. I feel bad for our grounds crew because, personally, these guys, to me, are the best or, if not, one the best. It’s just unfortunate that that happened,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez during the postgame Zoom video call. “For me, honestly, it’s part of this 2020 season. It really is. There is going to be days when you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it. So, we just got to keep moving on.”

As part of that moving on, the game will resume Friday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as part of a scheduled series in Baltimore. Despite changing venues, the Nationals will remain the home team for the suspended game. When the game resumes, the Orioles will have two men on with one out in the top of the sixth and leading 5-2.

If I were the type to peddle in conspiracy theories, I might suspect that the Washington Nationals grounds crew tangled the tarp on purpose to allow the Nats the chance to climb back from their three-run deficit.

Where are Mulder and Scully when you need them?

Of course, since this is 2020, and there is a global COVID-19 pandemic where up is down and down is up, I will give the grounds crew a pass and say that the 15-minute tarp deployment really was just an unfortunate accident, and not a premeditated act, or a conspiracy, to help the home team avoid a loss.

However, if the Nationals end up winning the game Friday, they should definitely thank their grounds crew for the assist.

I learned many life lessons from the movie Bull Durham. One of the most important ones being, everyone needs a rain delay now and then. The way 2020 keeps rolling on I am sure a lot of us wish that someone would turn the sprinklers on and give us a break from this tumultuous year.

Of course, if that were possible, the way this year has gone, I am sure someone would find a loop hole that says we would have to make the year up due to equipment failure. Once through 2020 is plenty, so maybe it is best not to use the rain delay clause just yet.

If one wanted to apply deep thought to the tarp situation in Washington D.C. they could say that 2020 is a lot like that grounds crew trying to cover that field. This year is a muddy mess and a struggle. However, if we all work together as one, we can roll out that tarp and tackle the raging COVID-19 storm that is washing away 2020.

I guess the key is to Tarpe Diem, err Carpe Diem that is.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a spot on my 2020 Bingo card to fill in.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson