Today’s Column has been Cancelled Due to Writer’s Block

Dating back to the first article I wrote for my middle school newspaper, I have spent the better part of three decades as a journalist.

During that time, I have spent many hours inside bustling newsrooms pounding out columns and other articles at deadline. I even lived every print journalist’s dream and got to yell, “stop the presses” once when I was working as a sports editor at a daily newspaper.

Okay, it was more like, “Hey, Bob we need to redo the front page, so can you stand down for a bit?”

But in my mind, I ran in there like Michael Keaton in The Paper with Glenn Close chasing behind me trying to stop me from bringing those mighty offset presses to a halt by pressing the kill switch like a crazed Guttenberg.

For the record, that would be like a crazed Johannes Gutenberg, and not like a Police Academy alum Steve Guttenberg.

There is an electricity in newsrooms that is hard to duplicate. So it is that lack of electrical energy that I will blame for my malaise when it came to deciding what I wanted to write about today.

I certainly tried to think of something clever to write. Instead, I spent most of the day staring at a blank computer screen when I wasn’t making homemade tacos, or blueberry pancakes, while watching documentaries and flipping between baseball and hockey games.

So, it is with my sincere apologies that I must announce that today’s column has been canceled due to a lack of subject to write about.

Sure, I could write about the fact that COVID-19 cases continuing to soar out of control like a bus being driven by Sandra Bullock on a deserted California interstate.

I certainly tried to think of something clever to write. Instead, I spent most of the day staring at a blank computer screen when I wasn’t making homemade tacos, or blueberry pancakes, while watching documentaries and flipping between baseball and hockey games.
Photo R. Anderson

If I were to write about that, I would be sure to point out that at the time of this writing over 162,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 as the virus continues to speed along killing about 1,000 people a day without showing any real sign of stopping.

I would also be sure to point out that more and more students and teachers are raising concerns about the patchwork of rules being implemented for returning kids to school.

Many schools seem to be treating back to school like some sort of demented science fair project where the students left standing get ribbons, and the rest of the students and staff risk long-term health effects that could dog them for the rest of their lives.

But hey, just open it all up and hope that fortune favors those who fail to follow the science. Spoilers, it doesn’t.

I could write about that, but it would be too easy to say that cases of COVID-19 are rising because of a lack of a central plan to combat the virus, and that nationwide testing needs to be increased in order to fully get a grasp on the virus before trying to reintroduce people to large indoor spaces like schools and whatnot.

Were I writing about concerns pertaining to back to school, I would also be sure to point out that despite what you may have heard, kids can catch and spread COVID-19 as well as adults.

If I was so inclined, I could even write about how instead of tackling real issues about how to encourage people to take the virus seriously, the President of the United States is holding press conferences where members of the public are not abiding by the few guidelines his administration has actually given out regarding COVID-19. You know that whole wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and avoid large indoor gatherings thing to stop the spread.

No, that would be too easy to write about.

Oh, I suppose I could even write about the expected 250,000 people heading to South Dakota this weekend for the largest gathering that has taken place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But if I were to write about it, no doubt I would point out that it will be interesting to see whether cases spike across the country as a result of the large gathering that 60 percent of the locals in the community asked be cancelled out of concerns for their health.

It seems like every day we plunge further down the rabbit hole. Meanwhile, our elected officials stick their heads in the sand like ostriches clicking their heels together and trying to just wish the virus away.

I could even write about how much enjoyment watching three bubble hockey games a day is giving me. But that would be unfair to Major League Baseball (MLB) to point out that bubbles work and trying to play ball outside a bubble leads to COVID-19 outbreaks.

You know, like the current outbreak that has caused a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs to be cancelled.

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot MLB refuses to use the word cancelled. Let me try again, a series against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs that was postponed to some future date.

While I am in no way going to write about the Cardinals, if I were to write about their situation, I would likely point out that with the latest series “postponement,” the Cardinals will have gone at least 12 days without playing a game.

While I am in no way going to write about the Cardinals, if I were to write about their situation, I would likely point out that with the latest series “postponement,” the Cardinals will have gone at least 12 days without playing a game.
Photo R. Anderson

Thanks to two COVID-19 flareups, with nine players and seven staff members testing positive for the virus, the Cardinals have only played five games this season.

Assuming they are given the all clear to resume play on Monday, they will face the task of needing to play 55 games in 49 days just to complete their 2020 season.

To be totally clear, I won’t write about the uphill climb faced by the Cardinals. But if I did, I would once again have to point out the total lunacy of MLB’s tunnel vision of playing a 2020 season despite the risks, and despite having multiple teams unable to compete. If MLB is not careful, sudden death will take on a whole new meaning this season.

I could even write about the foolish push to try to play football in the fall were I so inclined. Were I to tackle that issue, pun intended, I would be sure to note that if we were able to get the infection rate down to a manageable level than perhaps playing football would be a nice reward for a functional society.

But, plateauing at 1,000 people dying a day does not really sound like something to celebrate by tossing the old pigskin around.

Some college football conferences as well as some individual teams have agreed that playing football in the middle of a global pandemic is not smart. As a result, they cancelled their 2020 seasons. Time will tell if others follow suit.

So, with nothing to write about today, I guess I will just have to go back to trying new recipes for poutine as I continue to watch the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ponder what I will write about Monday.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

COVID-19 is Changing Where Journalists Work, but Not Why They Work

Thanks to COVID-19, although many professional sports leagues have resumed play, in many cases the broadcasters are calling the game action from miles away.

For NASCAR, only the pit reporters are live on the scene. The announcers are calling the action from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ditto for Major League Baseball where national broadcasters are in remote studios watching the game on a monitor just like the fans.

The ability to call games in real-time from remote locations is both a testament to the technology as well as a reminder that we are not in normal times.

During the time of COVID-19 many journalists have been broadcasting from their kitchens using plants and fruit as props. I can neither confirm nor deny that I grew this onion specifically for that purpose
Photo R. Anderson

Throughout my career as a journalist, I have interviewed people in person, and I have interviewed people remotely. The bulk of my story assignments involved actually being at the game, or the city council meeting, to get a first hand eyewitness account of the action.

Each rule begets exceptions, so while I always tried to be as they say “in the room where it happened,” there were times when a coach would call me with results of an out of town ballgame to ensure it was covered.

Although, I would often write stories at my desk after a game, never once did I think, “You know what, I think I will just cover the whole game from right here.” Come to think of it, I wrote an award-winning story about a distemper outbreak without ever leaving my desk, so maybe there is something to be said for passive reporting.

After being mostly confined to the Gigaplex for the past five months, I can see a certain appeal to working from home, and consider myself extremely lucky to be able to do that.

I am far from the only journalist who has found themselves home bound, and having to modify their reporting techniques to include more WebEx interviews and video calls. Thanks to COVID-19, not only are journalists needing to change how they gather facts for a story, we are now getting an inside look at where those facts are being gathered.

As a result of the broadcast from home trend, where live from the studio, becomes live from fill in the blank, I have now seen Dan Rather’s study, and Bob Costas’ kitchen.

Growing up, I had always envisioned I would see those two places as an invited guest. In my mind, Dan, Bob, and I would be potluck pals as they bestowed their vast wisdom on a much younger colleague. Sadly, that dream has yet to come true but hope springs eternal.

Bob and Dan are far from the only people who have let viewers into their homes. For a while, the late-night talk shows of Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien, Steven Colbert, Seth Myers and Jimmy Kimmel were filmed from their respective homes.

A few weeks back I started to ponder what my background would be if I got the call to provide my insight on a national television outlet, or, you know, if Dan Rather and Bob Costas invited me to a virtual potluck.
Photo R. Anderson

While I hate that it took a pandemic for it to happen, I have enjoyed the peek inside the homes of journalists, and other people on television.

A personal favorite viewing experience was the one night that Anderson Cooper broadcast his show from what looked like a rich mahogany study one would find in the pages of Agatha Christie, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The only thing missing was a smoking jacket and the need for either Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot to solve a whodunit case.

Anderson Cooper’s awesome (Gigaplex goals) home studio aside, the backgrounds for most people seem to fall under some main categories.

There are the shots of people in their dens in front of a wall of books.

There are people broadcasting from their kitchens with either flowers or bowls of fruit as props behind them.

There are even some people who utilize both flowers and fruit.

Another popular background is a roaring fire.

And of course, who can forget the wall of accomplishments, or a subtlety placed Emmy award casually shining in the background technique?

With so many backgrounds to choose from, and lots of time on my hands, a few weeks back I started to ponder what my background would be if I got the call to provide my insight on a national television outlet, or, you know, if Dan, Bob and I decide to have a virtual potluck.

The fireplace background technique was immediately eliminated. While there is a fireplace in the Gigaplex, I have never used it. In Texas it is hardly ever “fireplace weather.”

The “oh hey there, I am just chilling here in my kitchen with a pineapple while my sourdough starter rests” approach was also ruled out since as much as I love a good still life, a) the Gigaplex kitchen is on the smaller side, b) really, a kitchen? and c) I do not have a pineapple, or sunflowers handy.

While I hate that it took a pandemic for it to happen, I have enjoyed the peek inside the homes of journalists and other people on television. It inspired me to look at what my own background style would be. I call this example, space is messy.
Photo R. Anderson

So, that led me to hone in on the wall of books background idea. When I was growing up, my parents had a den that had floor to ceiling bookshelves on two walls and rough cedar planks on the other two walls.

To this day, one of my biggest Gigaplex goals is recreating that room. Although, after seeing Anderson Cooper’s den I may need to up my game.

While I do not yet have a single room for all of my books, I do have several walls in several rooms filled with bookshelves. So, the key became deciding which wall to use as my base of broadcasting operations.

There are two types of wall of book displays that have been featured during pandemic protocol. There are the anal-retentive displays where the books are likely alphabetized, and arranged by color, size, or other design element. The second type is the messy lived in book look.

There are two types of wall of book displays that have been featured during pandemic protocol. There are the anal-retentive displays where the books are likely alphabetized and arranged by color, size, or other design element. The second type is the messy lived in book look. My design style is lived in and messy
Photo R. Anderson

Here at the Gigaplex I totally embrace the messy book approach. So, as part of my background experiment I set a ground rule that the bookshelf would be unmodified to reflect the true reality, versus spending hours arranging certain books so that they looked casually asunder, and not like they had been placed there on purpose.

Of course, with my books arranged by subject in various rooms, the trick became what type of book would I highlight?

Part of the fun of the book background is pausing the television and trying to read the titles of the books to see what other people are reading. One reporter’s book shelf even inspired me to order one of the books I saw.

My choices for book background were narrowed down to space books, sports books, and history/political science books. I left out my shelf of journalism books for the most part based on the bookshelf location. I also ruled out the book shelves of mysteries, science fiction, Ian Fleming, and pretty much all fiction books.

It is not that I am ashamed for people to see which books I have in those categories, it is just that those book shelves are located in the Gigaplex sleeping chamber.

The Gigaplex sleeping chamber was ground ruled out as a suitable background room based on poor lighting and the fact that I really don’t like to make my bed. Although I have seen a few people reporting live from their bedrooms.

So, with the criteria set for the bookish background photo shoot I went from shelf to shelf trying to decide which one would look best.

Ultimately, I decided that I could use two locations depending on which topic I was being asked to speak about. For sports related topics, I would go with my sports book background to show my vast knowledge of sport.

For harder hitting stories, my space books background would be chosen in order to give off that certain sumpin sumpin.

So, now that I know what background to use, I guess I will just go back to waiting for that call from a colleague needing my unique take on the news of the day.

Of course, I could also use the background for the podcast I am developing, but that is a story for another day.

COVID-19 has caused journalists to change how they gather and report the news in many cases. It has not however, changed the commitment to getting the facts out where they are needed; even if that means reporting from their kitchen in front of some sunflowers and a pineapple like a 21st century Vincent van Gogh.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some books to dust and I need to pick a dish to bring to the potluck with Dan and Bob.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

COVID-19 Leads MLB to Cancel Field of Dreams Game as Cases Among Players Continue to Rise

It turns out that if you build it in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic, they won’t come.

Such is the case for the highly touted Major League Baseball (MLB) game between the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals that was scheduled to be played August 13 in Dyersville, Iowa amongst the cornfields made famous by the movie Field of Dreams.

First announced last year, the Field of Dreams game was originally set to feature the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees “having a catch” at a specially constructed, 8,000-seat Ballpark near the movie’s iconic diamond. The Cardinals replaced the Yankees on the program after MLB opted for a regionally based schedule.

On Monday word spread that the game was canceled amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19 within the ranks of MLB.

The cancellation comes as the St. Louis Cardinals became the latest team to get put in time out after multiple players and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

First announced last year, the “Field of Dreams” game was originally set to feature the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees “having a catch” at a specially constructed, 8,000-seat Ballpark near the movie’s iconic diamond. The Cardinals replaced the Yankees on the program after MLB opted for a regionally based schedule. On Monday word spread that the game was canceled amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19 within the ranks of MLB.

For comparison, the National Hockey League (NHL) reported Monday that zero players, or other personal inside their two bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton have tested positive for COVID-19.

Bubbles work, but MLB owners burst the bubble approach by demanding that they be free to move about the country, or at least move about regionally, to play ball in their own Ballparks.

It is no secret why MLB wanted to be bubble free. Houston Astros owner Jim Crane was brutally honest when he said he wanted as many fans as possible in the Ballpark buying t-shirts and concessions in order to recoup some lost revenue. As I noted at the time, that was one of the most tone-deaf statements I ever heard an MLB owner make.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise from coast to coast, and within MLB dugouts. As a result, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred warned over the weekend that the season could be shut down if players do not contain the spread of COVID-19.

During an interview with ESPN Manfred stated, “the players need to be better. But I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”

Manfred made those remarks, as 20% of the league was sidelined in an attempt to combat two separate COVID-19 outbreaks.

The “I am not a quitter,” and it isn’t my fault, remarks reminded me of a couple of other people who were faced with making tough decisions as the reality of a situation bigger than themselves crashed in upon them.

On August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned from office by uttering in part, “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.”

Putting the interests of America ahead of his desire to finish his term, Nixon became the only U.S. president to resign from office.

Rob Manfred could learn a lot from Richard Nixon. As MLB Commissioner, it is Manfred’s job to do what is best for the entire league, and right now playing baseball in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic does not seem to fit the definition of best.

As the late Kenny Rogers would say, Manfred needs to “know when to fold them.”

It is time for MLB to resign themselves to the fact that the 2020 season is a lost cause. MLB tried to have a season. No one can take that away from them. Walking away now, and canceling the season before it gets worse is the honorable thing to do.

Instead of making a graceful exit, and doing a proverbial flyover in Marine One, Manfred seems determined to follow the example of another president by using the blame and deflect game as he puts lives and careers at risk to seemingly serve his own self interests of proving that he isn’t a “quitter,” and we would have had a successful season if not for those meddling kids being kids in the middles of a pandemic.

Yes, some players are leaving their hotel rooms when they travel and are potentially getting exposed to the virus. But they are just as easily exposed during the constant travel from ballpark to ballpark.

For MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s apparent role model for taking zero responsibility, consider the actions of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, shown in Lego form, who has blamed nearly everyone under the sun for making him look bad with the spread of COVID-19, while seeming to take zero responsibility for trying to contain a virus that has killed over 156,000 Americans. Manfred, is blaming players instead of taking ownership of a failed plan to avoid a bubble approach to returning to action and it may cost him the season he fought so hard to have.
Photo R. Anderson

For Manfred’s apparent role model for taking zero responsibility, consider the actions of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who has blamed nearly everyone under the sun for making him look bad with the spread of COVID-19, while seeming to take zero responsibility for trying to contain the virus.

Yes, Mr. President over 156,000 Americans willingly died of COVID-19 just to make you look bad. That is some next level narcissism for someone to believe that.

Instead, over 156,000 Americans died in part due to a lack of centralized leadership and messaging coming out of the White House. Oh yeah, and the rush to reopen everything when we hadn’t flattened the curve didn’t help either.

In lieu of a national plan coming out of the White House, we get attacks on doctors and the media who are both engaged in trying to get the truth out and help save lives as they try to fill the leadership void. We also get attacks on governors for not managing the one of 50 different ways the United States is attacking COVID-19.

Like the effort to combat COVID-19, MLB is also suffering from a lack of leadership and messaging. If MLB was playing games in a bubble, I would give them way more leeway to try to get the situation under control. But they aren’t, and it isn’t.

Perhaps showing that players are not really buying into a belief that MLB has their best interests at heart, more and more players are opting out of the 2020 MLB season.

I cannot blame the players for deciding that the risks to their health are not worth playing ball in the current COID-19 climate. I can also not blame players for feeling that MLB is not able to keep them safe.

It is time for MLB to ease their pain and try again next year. The National Football League and College Football also need to take notice and realize that sports outside of a bubble don’t work.

MLB let greed guide them over science. If the NFL and NCAA play football in the fall it will be an equally greedy endeavor.

I have asked it before, and it bears asking again, how on earth did we let ourselves get here? We really have no one to blame but ourselves for not demanding more accountability out of our elected officials and demanding that they come up with a unified strategy. Thankfully it is not too late to turn it around and we can also all be part of the solution.

It is time to corral COIVD-19, and not try to return sports and other areas of live to normal while over 1,000 people a day are dying. These aren’t normal times, but we could be closer to returning to normal if everyone would just commit to wearing a mask and keeping their distance.

Such simple things to do, yet thanks to political lines being drawn, and a leadership vacuum, we are all left to fend for ourselves and hope for the best.

There is an empty Ballpark nestled among Iowa cornfields ready for baseball to return there in 2021, it is time for the 30 MLB Ballparks to go the distance and do the same by emptying Ballparks out until next year.

Of course, if we fail to get a handle on COVID-19, there may not be any baseball next year either. Much like He-Man of the Masters of the Universe franchise, we have the power.

We don’t even need to hold a magic sword aloft as we recite a mantra. We just need to wear a mask, socially distance, avoid crowds, wash our hands and act as one nation.

It isn’t rocket science, but it is scientifically proven to work. If we fail, we have no one but ourselves to blame.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some bubble hockey to watch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson