Son of a gun, but the sun was out last week. The air was warm, 70 degrees, maybe 75. Across neighborhood backyards, kids were breaking out yellow plastic bats and white balls with oval holes. On schoolyard fields, kids were taking batting practice, infield practice, shagging flies. In saloons, patrons spoke of three subjects:
- The vaccine (when, where, how, how bad are the aftereffects?)
- Aaron Judge (can he stay upright for 155 games?)
- The Mets bullpen (are pitching changes sponsored by Maalox?)
Can you feel it? Can you hear it? Baseball is back. Spring is here. The bookend years may be something we’ll soon want to forget — that 60-game cameo on one side, the looming specter of labor apocalypse on the other — but for now, we have now.
For now, we have 2021.
For now, we have so many good reasons to be optimistic about baseball’s return to our daily diet that the sun actually seems brighter this year, the air actually feels warmer, the crack (or clink) of a bat actually fills our ears with the same kind of wonder as the opening notes of “More Than a Feeling” when it’s cranked, full volume, out of a dorm window and spills onto the quad.
For now, we have these 21 reasons to be fired up, jazzed up, amped up, revved up for ’21:
Yes, you are back and, yes, you were missed. Never let anyone tell you fans aren’t an essential part — the essential part — of sports. Watching baseball in front of cardboard cutouts and vast tarpaulin ads … well, let’s just say everyone involved in the sport owes you a beer. Maybe two. Here’s to you. And, soon, hopefully, here’s to more of you.
For now, for this year, you are unlikely to hear anyone gripe about how terribly long the season is. We got 60 games last year. We may get as few as zero next year. One-sixty-two looks and feels perfect in just about every way. Long live 162.
3 & 4. DJ LeMahieu & Jeff McNeil
These are few things purer in the baseball experience than the professional hitter. He sprays line drives. He goes the other way. He finds gaps. Hang a slider, he’ll hit it 425 feet. Bust him on the hands with filth and he’ll spoil it, foul it off, live to see another pitch. We have matching professional hitters in New York. Watching them work is a daily joy.
5 & 6. Jacob deGrom & Gerrit Cole
There are few things more breathtaking in the baseball experience than the lockdown ace. He stops losing streaks. He inspires confidence in your team and doubt in the other one. He makes baseball feel like art every fifth day. He breaks your heart with a curve, breaks your bat with a slider, breaks your will with 99 on the black, at the knees. We have matching aces in New York. Watching them is a twice-weekly joy.
7 & 8. Aaron Judge & Pete Alonso
There are few things more awe-inspiring in the baseball experience than the slugger. He not only clobbers baseballs, he obliterates them. He finds places in ballparks even the architects were unfamiliar with. He refuses to allow bathroom breaks; you hold it until he either trots around the basepaths or trudges back to the dugout. We have matching sluggers in New York. Watching them … just watch them.
9 & 10. Citi Field & Yankee Stadium
Are they perfect? Neither is perfect. You want perfect, take a road trip to San Francisco or Pittsburgh. (Trust me. Those yards are perfect.) But they are in their own way better than perfect: they are ours. They have each hosted one World Series, and were both equal to the moment. They are both easy on the eyes. Go to an extra game or two if you can afford it. Come early. Stay all nine. Life is too short not to.
11 & 12. Television
Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez. Michael Kay, David Cone, Paul O’Neill, Ken Singleton, John Flaherty. We have it all in New York, honestly. We have first-rate play-by-play. We have a few homers. We have a few analytical savants. We have recognizable faces and recognizable voices. They carry us through summer, and here’s the best part: they all love the game, all of them, every bit as much as we do.
13 & 14. Radio
John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman, Howie Rose, Wayne Randazzo. They are the soundtrack. They allow us to drive and not miss a pitch. They allow us to go to the beach, not miss a pitch. Too nice a day to stay in your living room? Go to the backyard. Don’t miss a pitch. Don’t miss a moment. April to October. One-sixty-two, maybe beyond.
15 & 16. Beyond
Yes, the Yankees and Mets are good enough to be playoff teams. Yes, that means October baseball could come to both The Bronx and Queens for the first time since 2015, though you really need to go back to 2006 for a full playoff experience for both. To which New York must say: “Yes please.”
17 & 18. Welcome back
Noah Syndergaard on one end of the Triboro, Luis Severino on the other end. Both threw gas before Tommy John. Both look like the pilot lights are back on. Both will be back sometime this summer. Here’s to hello again, old friends.
19 & 20. Steve Cohen & Hal Steinbrenner
Let’s just put it this way: both ownerships are fully committed to winning, in every way, at (almost) all costs. That will make for some marvelous theater in the coming weeks, months and years.
21. Baseball town
We get all of the above, but we get the rest of the sport visiting our town again for the first time in two years. We get to see Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Jose Abreu. Shane Bieber and Walker Buehler. Jose Ramirez and Juan Soto. Every rising star. Every falling star. Every day, April to October. Let’s go. Let’s GO.