Opinion: A whole new ball game 

click to enlarge The seats will remain empty, but at least the games have returned — for now. - FRANK ROMEO / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Frank Romeo / shutterstock.com
  • The seats will remain empty, but at least the games have returned — for now.
As a kid, from the youngest age I can remember, my family’s dinner-table conversation generally skewed toward one of three things — baseball, books and politics.

Baseball was mother’s milk. My first dog’s name was Dodger. My mother came from a family of Yankees fans, but converted to being a Dodgers fan when she married my father. I was surprised that my grandfather — her father — didn’t write her out of the will. My sister, raised by Dodgers fans, married a Yankees fan — and also converted. Life has always been hard, I guess.

I still have a black-and-white photo — a similar one ran in my hometown newspaper — from the first day of spring training, with me at bat, my little sister on deck, one friend catching, one friend umpiring behind the plate and one (unpictured) friend pitching. I have a frustrated expression on my face — OK, I was 9 years old — because I was instructed by the photographer to swing and miss, apparently to protect the photographer from being on the wrong end of a line drive. To me, it was just an embarrassment that would be seen around my (admittedly small) world.

It was February cold, but I’d be playing baseball every day until my mother called us in for dinner, from then until the end of October. That was my youth — my America Was Great Back Then youth — which was great only if you don’t count the Jim Crow laws, segregated schools, country club and other restrictions against Jews, Roe v. Wade was years away, that in many states anti-miscegenation laws were still in place, that LGBTQ rights were a distant dream, that neighborhoods were redlined, back of the bus, Rosa Parks, Woolworths counter sit-ins, terrorism in Birmingham, MLK testing our consciences, Freedom Riders in Mississippi, the Edmund Pettus Bridge (which many now want to rename in honor of John Lewis) and on and on and on.

I bring this up because baseball is back, and while I’m skeptical they can actually pull off even a 60-game season — what happens when one team gets, say, 12 players infected and another gets, say, eight? — I watched, gratefully, even as they played games without fans, games with strange new rules, games without a 4-year-old kid (like I once was) going on his first big-league outing and seeing his hero (mine was Duke Snider in old Ebbets Field) hit a home run.

But I also bring this up because the players from both sides took a knee before their games and some, including Mookie Betts, took a knee during the National Anthem. Many were wearing Black Lives Matter patches, and players are now allowed to write social justice messages on their cleats. And, in a stunning turn of events, when the Giants all knelt, including their manager Gabe Kapler, during an exhibition game, the video went viral, mainly because it was sent out approvingly by Major League Baseball, not exactly an organization rooted in progressive change, at least not since Jackie Robinson.

Taking it even a step further, you could see “BLM,” accompanied by the MLB logo, stamped onto the pitcher’s mounds. On Friday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays put out a tweet saying, “Today is Opening Day, which means it’s a great day to arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor.” The Red Sox, who were one of the last two major league teams to integrate, retweeted the message.
As the NBA begins exhibition play in its Orlando bubble — where all the players and staff are basically living in hotel lockdown — the basketball court features a huge “Black Lives Matter” insignia, and the league, with its mostly black population, is now heavily involved in the movement. Even in the NFL, the commissioner apologized for not listening to Colin Kaepernick and others when they were protesting against racial injustice. And it will play the Black National Anthem before games. Players can wear Black Lives Matter stickers on their helmets. The WNBA has notably allied itself with the protesters.

We shouldn’t get carried away with this. I doubt that ownership across these leagues has suddenly turned progressive. But they do understand marketing, which has, uh, modernized some views. They understand they are marketing, in many cases, black stars, and they recognize that polls are showing strong support for Black Lives Matter.

Not in the White House, of course. Even as Donald Trump has finally recognized he’s not going to get re-elected if he continues to fail on COVID-19 — thus the humiliating retreat on the Jacksonville portion of the GOP national convention — he has convinced himself that he can win on Law and Order by villainizing and actually, as he sends in the federal agents, encouraging chaos in Democratically run cities.

Not unexpectedly, Trump gloated on Hannity about Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, whose name he got wrong, being tear-gassed. He apparently wanted to send a similar show of force to Chicago, but his advisers talked him out of it. He’s still sending agents there, as well as Kansas City and Albuquerque, in something called Operation Legend. Remember when the talk was of protecting federal buildings, now Trump is talking about urban crime while attempting, of course, to scare white suburbanites.

But even Defense Secretary Mark Esper has raised concerns about the fact that the agents — storm troopers, as some call them — look too much like they’re part of the military. A spokesman said Esper had told administration officials “we want a system where people can tell the difference.”
Trump, meanwhile, talks as if he might send as many as 75,000 federal forces to cities around the country, although he notes he would want the forces to be invited. (Hint: They won’t be.)

A city like Denver could be next, and, unsurprisingly, the benighted state Rep. Dave Williams sent a letter to Trump asking him to send the troops to Denver, saying that “radical Democrats” have done nothing to keep the peace. Democrats in the Legislature wrote their own letter saying they didn’t want federal agents here.

When asked about Williams’ letter in a news conference, Gov. Jared Polis, while noting that federal agents have made the situation worse in Portland, said he hasn’t asked for help. “If we need them,” he said, “I won’t hesitate to call upon President Trump, to call upon federal support.”

When that last part of the quote made headlines, Polis’ office had to send out statements confirming that Colorado doesn’t want or need federal law enforcement. Instead, The Colorado Sun is reporting Denver officials, at Polis’ request, are giving state police authority to deal with graffiti at the Capitol and encampments on state land.

Of course, we don’t want the feds here. Rep. Dave Williams may think the problem is with radical Democrats. But the funny, and strange, thing is, if he tunes into the Rockies over the weekend, he’ll see a radically different ballgame. If even Major League Baseball understands how much the world has changed, it should be clear to everyone.

Mike Littwin’s column was produced for The Colorado Sun, a reader-supported news organization committed to covering the people, places and policies of Colorado. Learn more at coloradosun.com.


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