The nation has had no pastimes for the past month, however, as the battle to contain covid-19 has shut down all live sporting events. Tens of millions of people who used to watch sports on television have been cut off cold turkey. No March Madness, no Masters Tournament, no NBA or NHL, no nothing.
That gives MLB a huge opportunity to reintroduce Americans to their national game. If its plans come to fruition, baseball will be the only live sporting event taking place in the United States, and perhaps in most of the world. All those fans starved for sporting entertainment will surge to baseball. The league should ride this for everything it’s worth.
Starting with the All-Star Game gives fans a singular focal point to look forward to. It is the only time during the season when the game rather than individual teams is on display. That unites fans and attracts the casual bystander. Starting the season with the All-Star Game announces that baseball, not the Yankees or the Dodgers, is back.
That would make the All-Star Game a national event marking the beginning of the national recovery. It would occur at about the time state and local lockdowns might be eased, marking the resumption of national life. It would be a unifying, non-political symbol of our national resilience, much as playing the World Series in New York after 9/11 helped heal that wounded city. That alone would provide a boost of optimism to a country sorely in need of one.
It would also be a huge television hit. Even if the game is played without fans in Phoenix’s Chase Field, millions of casual fans will want to tune in to see baseball’s best athletes playing. People who have lost touch with the game will watch and discover Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Xander Bogaerts for the first time. The potential boost in interest and revenue could be off the charts.
Planning for the All-Star Game would also stoke interest in the sport and revive hope for the country. This is the 50th anniversary of the reintroduction of fans voting for the All-Star Game starters. MLB could implement fan voting over the Internet for this year’s game as soon as plans to play the game are in place. Voting for their favorites from social isolation can only help people’s mental health and keep baseball in the news during the dark weeks ahead. That’s got to be good for everyone and for the game.
The All-Star Game provides a unifying event for baseball and the country that simply starting the season with a full complement of games cannot match. No other sport has a comparably iconic event that it can stage this spring. This can be a historic grand slam.
“The one constant through all the years has been baseball," James Earl Jones says in the movie “Field of Dreams.” “This game is part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again." Those words have special resonance right now. Please, MLB, ease our pain. Go the distance. Build it, and we will come.