If you’ve ever been swimming in the ocean and get a mouthful of saltwater that you weren’t expecting, you know what a jarring experience it can be. It can take time for that taste to go away.
That’s how many folks feel as we slowly emerge from this pandemic.
And the world of sports is not different. Things are going to return to normal in fits and starts. Right now, there are lots of signs that things are getting better. That we may be able to resume our lives in a way that feels, if not exactly like before, then close enough for us to celebrate.
Take baseball. This year we are getting a full season of 162 games. And there are fans in the stands again! Because the pandemic varies from region to region, not all baseball games look the same from one ballpark to the next. But they all have fans in them. Some stadiums seem chock full with no restrictions on capacity. Here in Seattle, a more measured approach is being taken by the Mariners, with T-Mobile Park being only partially full. There is now talk of allowing a special “vaccinated” section of the stands, which would allow both more fans to attend the games, but also for these fans to sit in closer proximity to one another.
If nothing else, the Mariners performance this year tells us that, at least so far, they are a mix of what we are familiar with and what we haven’t seen around here in a long time, which is that Seattle is above .500 after over 30 games, and trails the first-place Oakland Athletics by only two games. The part of their performance which feels familiar is that they are slowly sliding down the rankings from their previous first-place standing. Many fans feel as if it is inevitable that they will slip further as the season goes on.
The NBA is also chugging along in a feeling more and more normal. Many arenas have already allowed some fans back. The Portland Trail Blazers are planning to welcome fans back to the Moda Center this weekend for the first time in over a year. That should be music to the ears of roundball fans in the PDX, who have had to watch the Trail Blazers’ relative success over the past twelve months from the confines of their homes. Portland is sitting at 7th place in the standings in the Western Conference. They are hanging on to this playoff spot for dear life. With six games left, the Trail Blazers should make the playoffs—or at least the new play-in round, which pits the 7th-10th seeds against one another to see which two teams get to enter the playoffs proper.
And in one final example that things are returning to normal, all of the Pac-12 colleges in our region were able to have spring practices and scrimmages for the first time in two years. This should pay dividends come fall, when you can expect teams to play full schedules with fans in the stands. Last season was rough in a number of ways. One notable aspect that was a lot of the football we watched on television was not very good, especially at first, since players had missed out on so much developmental time with their coaches and teammates. That shouldn’t be the case for 2021.
So while many of us still have a funny taste in our mouths, there should be plenty of reasons to think that this summer and fall will feel different indeed.