ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by John Minchillo / A man wearing a surgical mask walks last Thursday at the track near Yankee Stadium, which remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What was scheduled to be opening day for the MLB season came and went without a single game as baseball teams await their chance to resume training before finally beginning the 2020 schedule.

Kevin Spain had booked his flight weeks ago. The former assistant sports editor of the Times Free Press would fly to Nashville from his home in the Washington, D.C., area, then drive to Chattanooga this past Sunday for one of his favorite events of the year: The annual selection party for the McDonald Farm System fantasy baseball league.

But then Major League Baseball postponed the start of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant fantasy baseball leagues have been put on hold, which forced Spain to cancel his once-a-year trip to the Scenic City.

"I haven't worked at the Times Free Press since 2002," he said Monday, "but I don't think I've missed more than a couple of drafts since I've been gone. I've flown sometimes, driven all night from New Orleans, flown to Birmingham and rented a car, but I've always tried to be there. And in all these years, I've never won it."

In the grand scheme of things, the (hopefully) temporary hiatus of fantasy baseball leagues is a pretty small inconvenience.

Lives are being both threatened and lost at an alarming rate. The number of those infected in this country alone has topped 175,000 as the U.S. death toll has climbed above 3,500. The worldwide numbers passed 820,000 as of Tuesday morning with the death toll swiftly approaching 40,000.

As New York governor Andrew Cuomo — whose brother Chris, the CNN news anchor, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — noted: "I don't care how smart, how rich, how powerful you think you are. I don't care how young, how old. This virus is the great equalizer."

And given all that, a month or even a year without baseball, football, basketball or any other sports or entertainment events is a fairly insignificant loss.

But that doesn't mean that when you've been a part of something for 32 years — as McDonald Farm System commissioner and Times Free Press sports writer Lindsey Young has — that being without it, if only for a couple of months, isn't difficult.

"When we first started, it was a way to get closer as a staff, to help everybody get along," said Young, whose team, Young's Guns, won the league three times in a row at one point. "It's still fun, but we're more distant now. We still have 10 teams, but most of the owners don't work at the paper anymore."

It's true. Spain is now an editor for The Athletic. Brad Shepard works full time in communications for the missile defense agency in Huntsville, Alabama, and part time as a college football writer for Bleacher Report. David Uchiyama, once this paper's University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball beat writer, is now a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. David Cobb, once our University of Tennessee beat writer, now writes for CBS Sports.com. Andy Johns, another former TFP writer, is now the director of business development at a local marketing agency. One league owner, Jeremy Wood, is a firefighter who lives in Florida.

"It's changed some," Young said. "Entry fees used to be $20. Now they're $50. But we're still a National League league. No DH. And draft night's still great. At least it will be once baseball starts back."

It all started in 1988. The newspaper's resident computer whiz and one-time sports writer Paul Schulz wrote a software program for weekly stats.

"Way ahead of its time," Young said. "Each week someone would read the stats to (former Free Press baseball writer) David Jenkins and he would log them in."

How smart is Schulz?

Said Young: "He's still the only person to win the league without making a single roster move for a whole season. It should be impossible, but Paul did it."

Almost all of them have the move to remember as well as the one they'd love to forget.

Spain acquired the New York Mets' Pete Alonso and the St. Louis Cardinals' Tom Edman for the Philadelpia Phillies' Aaron Nola and Jean Segura, a heist if ever there was one for Spain's Spanish Flies franchise.

Shepard, who has won the past two league titles and four overall, won his first two on the strength of trading David Wright for Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.

Of course, Shepard also recalled trading away the Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich. Each time Yelich connected on one of his 80 homers over the past two summers, Shepard said, "I cringed."

Young recalls unloading Randy Myers and Shawon Dunston for some guy named Barry Bonds. Then again, he also recalls trading away Mets pitching star Jacob DeGrom.

"That one's going to hurt for a long time," he said.

For the millions of folks who enter fantasy leagues each spring, there's surely a wee bit of hurt right now that those leagues are on hold.

But at least a couple of the McDonald Farm System owners say our new normal due to the coronavirus has brought rewards far greater than the winner's share of $260 or the little trophy that Uchiyama rightly says "is really just a cookie jar."

Said Uchiyama from his home in Asheville: "It's forced us to reprioritize what's really important in our lives."

Added Shepard as he stays as close to his wife Jennifer and son Jackson as possible these days: "We let ourselves get busy with so many things that aren't necessary, that take time away from those we love, and right now there are so many people out there who'd do anything to have one more minute with those they love."

And regardless of what you're doing without these days regarding hobbies or entertainment, there is nothing equal or equitable about that.

some text
Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

 

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT