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Phil Mickelson hugs his brother and caddie Tim after winning the final round at the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Kiawah Island, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Among the many things that the pandemic took away was more than a year of sports enjoyment.

Sure there were sports, but those were exercises in cashing checks. Games in bubbles, rounds without galleries, kickoffs without the crazies and muted cheering sections.

But we were OK with that, if it meant watching something that felt like normal, even if we never appreciated just how abnormal it was.

That realization crystallized with the return of fans.

Case in point: The throng of fans following Phil Mickelson's history on Sunday generated "Super Moment!" hype on social media rather than "Super Spreader" hysteria.

The sacrifices that came with the awfulness of the pandemic also served up reminders of great things, things that were taken for granted until their absence made our hearts grow fonder.

And when they returned, as the chants and the crowd shots and the cheers have roared back into our arenas, stadiums and TV sets, oh boy is it great.

Sweet buckets of popcorn and pitchers of beer, it is great to have fans back in the stands.

"We are so pleased to welcome back as many fans as we can and give them the option to be comfortable at the ballpark," Lookouts President Rich Mozingo said Thursday, as his club welcomed 40% capacity with optional face-coverings through Sunday at AT&T Field.

"It has made all the difference in the world, and we're sold out Friday and Saturday and almost certainly will be Sunday. Welcoming our great fans back to the park means more than normal this year. It means a step to where we all want to be."

Of course Mozingo is spot on. (Pandemic politicization caveat here: Wear your mask if you feel the need. Stay home if you feel unsafe or think you may have been exposed. For goodness sakes, get the shots so we can go from 40% to a full-blown capacity.)

Sports have served as the portal into a better spot throughout history. Be it racial — think Jackie Robinson — or patriotic — think George W. Bush splitting the plate at the World Series after 9/11 — sports are a more critical piece of the fabric of our society than many are willing to admit.

And that return to normalcy has been met with open arms.

It was great to hear Madison Square Garden hate an opponent just because he was wearing a different jersey Wednesday night as they heckled star Trae Young as the Hawks lost to the New York Knicks. And when they started chanting, "Trae is balding — clap-clap, clap-clap-clap" well, all was right with the world.

It was great to see the gallery bring the human-level of magnitude of what Mickelson's sixth major meant on Sunday at Kiawah.

It will be great to see the Lookouts crowd — beer in hands, smile on faces — spend a holiday weekend at the ballpark too.

The fans being back is the straw that stirs the drink for sports being back, and sports being back points me square in the direction that we're on our way back. (Yes, vaccine, mask if you want, you know the drill.)

But welcome back fans — and sports — God I missed you.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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Jay Greeson
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