Baseball in the Summer of Dread: Summer Chronicles 2020 #6

by on July 27, 2020 · 0 comments

in Sports, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

The pandemic belongs to Swole Daddy.  In case you missed it, Swole Daddy is the mascot of the NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO).  He is, as his name aptly signals, the super buff cartoonish dinosaur who joins the cheerleaders on top of the dugout in the empty ballpark during games.  Actually, his name is Sseri, but “Swole Daddy” took off on social media and it stuck.

“We love you, Sexy Dino,” the meme exclaims.  Yes, a jacked dinosaur wearing a necklace is as good as it gets this year, really.

As FiveThirtyEight recently noted, statistically speaking, the NC Dinos may just be the best KBO team to ever take the field at this point in the season.  That’s the kind of thing you learn if you take a few moments off from obsessively checking the daily polling and political punditry on the site and scroll over to their sports analysis.  Here is where sports and politics meet: in the strange alchemy of the daily numbers. They create their own reality as they seek to document it.  The tool of measurement grants an aura to that which can be quantified and reified.

Of course, the other set of numbers that has come to define our days is the COVID-19 caseload and death count.  How are the global statistics looking?  What is the positivity rate in a given region?  The hospitalization rate?  What percentage of available hospital beds are currently in use?   How do we do a cost/benefit analysis of the human costs of the pandemic versus the economic costs of stay at home orders?  Etc..  These sorts of grim calculations have bled into the fabric of our everyday lives, and, ultimately, we all play the game, do our own amateur analyses, and place our bets.

The risk management math goes something like this: On a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 being safest and 10 the most dangerous: take-out is only a 1; walking or getting gas, a 2; camping and the grocery store, a 3; your office and the dentist, a 4; bowling and airplanes, a 5; casinos and playgrounds, a 6; schools and pools, 7; gyms, churches, and amusement parks, an 8; and bars and sporting events are a 9, near the top of the scale.  Hence there are empty stadiums in the KBO and now the MLB after the economic cage fight it took to get the game to the field in the United States.

So it goes.

Perhaps that’s why the minor league charm of fanless Korean baseball with its silly mascots and cardboard cutout fans along with the occasional blow-up sex doll behind home plate has been a welcome solace in the wee hours of the morning or on the DVR with a beer at a more decent hour.  In between the death count, the stock market volatility, and the ongoing political horserace, it has offered a brief glimpse of one of our old rituals, stripped down to the bare essentials, robbed of the roar of the crowd.

A triple in the gap, a sharp double play, a walk-off home run suddenly appearing on our TV screens like an apparition of our former lives.  There with the masked cheerleaders and the comic mascots we find a painful reminder of whatever innocence we may have had left.  Here in the brave new world in which we find ourselves, this strange, spectacle of useless, beautiful play and kitschy fun only accessible on our screens is a carnival of loss.

Could there be anything more lonely than watching a ballgame acted out in an empty stadium with the play-by-play coming from announcers viewing it on their own distinct screens in their separate houses thousands of miles away? It fills my heart with a sad yearning even as I laugh at the absurdity of the elaborate sideline antics and the endearing weirdness of the whole affair.

The pandemic belongs to Swole Daddy.

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