Well, here we are. It's October 30th, 2020. Let's take a walk down memory lane.
If you had asked me in February what I'd be doing at this point, it'd be a pretty exciting time. There would more than likely be a World Series Game 6 or 7 on the horizon. The Houston Astros - I'd hoped - would finish 5th in the AL West, getting relentlessly booed by every fan base as they stumbled to the finish line. The Yankees would be hoisting their 28th championship; Hal Steinbrenner would give his speech about how it was long overdue, Brian Cashman would once again enter the "greatest sports executive of all time" conversation, and Aaron Boone may well have guaranteed himself a five-year extension. We'd see Carlos Beltran in his first year managing the Mets (maybe...), the Nationals hoist their first World Series Champion banner in Washington, and maybe even an unexpected comeback from Felix Hernandez as he put on the Atlanta Braves uniform for the first time.
I mean, come on! This is gorgeous.
But, the nasty - and sometimes, beautiful - part about this crazy world we call sports? Just when you think you have it all figured out, the gods laugh hysterically.
What hasn't been said about the week of March 9th, 2020? Will and I are going to remember exactly where we were on Wednesday of that week - from our couch in Providence, we saw Rudy Gobert and Spider Mitchell testing positive for COVID-19, the BIG EAST tournament getting cancelled at halftime of a would-be classic in Creighton vs. St. John's, and the PA announcer for the Oklahoma City Thunder asking all fans in attendance to evacuate Chesapeake Energy Arena. "A day that will live in infamy" is almost too cliche - and maybe not even emotional enough, actually - of a title for the events of that dreary week in March.
I'm not sure it really even hit us until a few days after the cancellations that will be heard around the world, but it seems as though we all collectively realized - BASEBALL!
In a time where our game's integrity was sure to be put to its boldest test, suddenly the Astros' organized scheme of trash-can-banging to systematically steal signs from their opponents took a back seat. For those of you that still deny the reality of the situation, Rob Manfred's report determined that this was accurate - the Houston Astros mounted a camera in center field, read their opponents' signs that their catcher delivered to the pitcher in real-time, and relayed the incoming pitches to the batter.
If you'd appreciate a more candid description, please enjoy this short clip of Joe Buck explaining its impact on players like Clayton Kershaw.
But, the pandemic had its "hold my beer" moment, and weaseled its way into America's pastime.
As expected - and, for the record, totally necessary - COVID-19 shut down all hopes of baseball starting on time. March passed - and while the April showers most assuredly brought May flowers, it must have forgot Rob Manfred's motivation and call-of-duty to his constituents.
As time elapsed, other commissioners began to diligently craft plans for their leagues to safely resume gameplay. Adam Silver of the NBA worked closely with ESPN and Walt Disney World; although they readjusted plenty of times, Silver constantly solicited feedback from players, coaches, and fans, and subsequently improved the league's plan to resume under any circumstances. The NHL's Gary Bettman got on the phone with Canadian and American health officials & governing bodies, and launched two "bubbles" in Edmonton and Toronto. Both leagues ended up crowning a champion - call it what you'd like, but many believe it can be attributed to the leadership (and feedback loop) that the commissioners established.
Rob Manfred, though? He stood pat.
Into late May and June, both league officials and representatives from the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) were clear that both sides were quite far apart from striking a deal to resume action. The NBA and NHL had plans to reintroduce competition into the sports world - something we hadn't seen in months. But in the baseball world, it felt as though the prospect of America's pastime returning in 2020 was growing bleaker.
Days growing longer meant more daylight, and more fair weather conditions. Normally, it should've meant an overpriced 16-ounce Sam Adams draft and a bag of Cracker Jack, too. But baseball - in its ever-so-confusing love-hate relationship with its fans - would appear to not materialize in 2020.
Until the players spoke. Loudly and all-too-deafening to ignore.
After negotiation soured with Rob Manfred & his executives, we heard the pleas. A simple request, yet meaningful:
"Tell us when and where."
Mike Trout. Gerrit Cole. Pete Alonso. Rookies, MVP's, journeymen, and minor leaguers.
And as sure as the sun will rise, they played.
Somehow, some way, the MLB and its players agreed to a 60-game season, with an extended playoff format and a possible "playoff bubble" in states that had the infrastructure and health & safety protocols to do it. "Spring training" - rebranded as "Summer Camp" - was a hit. Finally getting back on the field seemed monumental.
And finally, Opening Day.
In what many wanted - oddly, very passionately - to be branded as a "fake season," we had enough drama to span a full 162 games.
Hot out of the gates, Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly got into a heated encounter with Carlos Correa of the Astros. After a few questionable "inside" (yeah, I know) pitches to Alex Bregman, we got pure gold.
Tip: if you came just for the pouty faces and exchange of expletives, skip to the 1-minute mark.
With every big moment in sports, we got our horrible takes! Let's start with Lance McCullers - who, mind you, I've always really respected - trying to defend his squad of integrity-ruining, unapologetic trash can bangers, by trying to call a relief pitcher "unprofessional" for attempting to seek revenge.
Rob - who, full disclosure is my mentor and good friend - got this right here. With or without its malicious intent, you cannot realistically expect sympathy if you are the Astros. You cheated! Don't come after the folks trying to enforce it! And yes, Joe Kelly is a total "nutbar."
Enough with the 'Stros. Let's talk about real baseball.
We saw new stars born. Second-to-none, let's talk about Fernando Tatis, Jr., one of the most prolific rookies in recent memory.
Tatis played 59 of his San Diego Padres' 60 games - in that time, he hit 17 home runs (that's a prorated 46 homers!!), drove in 45 runs (prorated at 122!!), and made just about every defensive play he could've dreamed of. Tatis broke rules that were meant to be shattered, led the Padres back to the playoffs, and had a TON of fun doing it.
If you want to add "the most epic batflips" to his list of accolades in 2020, here ya go.
Gerrit Cole wore the Yankee pinstripes for the first time. Although he did, in fact, let up runs (you wouldn't know if you follow Yankees Twitter), he led the Bronx Bombers back to the playoffs yet again. He continued to prove why he's warranted the title of one of the best pitchers in the modern era.
Randy Arozarena - who was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Tampa Bay Rays for prospects and draft picks - appeared to be every pitcher's Achilles heel. He cruised his way to the MLB postseason home run record; Arozarena hit 10 home runs, distancing himself from a host of players that hit 8 in a previous playoff (including Carlos Beltran). The Rays' left fielder was nearly unstoppable, and more fun to watch than any rookie in the American League.
Most notably, 2020 brought us the long-awaited World Series title for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Having reached the Fall Classic 2 of the past 3 seasons, the Dodgers were close to a breaking point - what was the future of Dave Roberts' job as the LA skipper? What would Clayton Kershaw's legacy become if there was no Championship ring in his future? Could the deprived Padres, the hungry Braves, the resurging Cubs, or the red-hot Marlins stand in the way?
Well, on February 11th - two days before the "OG" Spring Training - the Dodgers made a franchise-altering move, and if you ask General Manager Andrew Friedman, it may have been the best in club history. For virtually nothing, the Dodgers acquired a generational talent in outfielder Mookie Betts - and somehow walked away with David Price, too - from the Boston Red Sox.
"So what's the kicker," you ask? Which of their top-tier prospects left the City of Angels?
None of them!
In exchange for Betts and Price, the Dodgers sent outfielder Alex Verdugo (who started most of the year for Boston), shortstop Jeter Downs, and catcher Conor Wong to the Red Sox. Only Downs was ranked in the Dodgers top-ten prospects - Wong ranked #28. Somehow, the Dodgers also acquired flamethrowing relief pitcher Brusdar Graterol in exchange for hybrid pitcher Kenta Maeda.
We saw the Dodgers excel all year - in a year in which they felt they were "destined" to win, they thought COVID-19 and their battles with the commissioner would take away what was rightfully theirs.
But they played. And boy, did they give us a show.
No MLB team in 2020 had a better record than the Los Angeles Dodgers. At 43-17, they were on pace to win 116 games if it were a full season. The last team to accomplish that feat? The 1939 New York Yankees. How'd they do it?
For starters, Mookie Betts was indeed the player that was promised. He managed to spearhead a team that was hungry - wanted to win - and although only having been with them for a short time, Mookie Betts clearly became the clubhouse leader.
Oh, and having games like these helps, too.
Andrew Friedman happily extended Betts to a 12-year deal, successfully bet on two breakout stars in Dustin May & Julio Urias, and enjoyed wild success from Corey Seager and Justin Turner - both of which will likely be wearing Dodger Blue until it's ripped off their back.
The World Series was no deviation from Los Angeles' consistent track record of success. In the eyes of many, baseball can thank one man in particular for notching the seventh Fall Classic title in club history.
Clayton Kershaw shattered the narrative of a "playoff bust." In yet another postseason for the 6'4" southpaw, the Dodgers won four of the five games he started. Kershaw had finally reached a breaking point with the narrative of postseason inadequacy - this was the year he'd shatter it. On the strength of an eight-inning, three-hit, thirteen-strikeout first-round playoff performance vs. Milwaukee, the Dodgers rode the craftsmanship of their ace - their de-facto captain, leader, and arguably their best pitcher in franchise history - to make their playoff run. The Dodgers won both of Kershaw's World Series starts - he surrendered a combined 3 earned runs and seven hits over 11 innings between his starts in Game 1 and Game 5. Kershaw seemed to entirely eliminate Randy Arozarena, undoubtedly the Rays' biggest offensive threat, over those two games - his biggest blunder was allowing an RBI single in Game 5, which was later rendered meaningless in the grand scheme of a 4-2 win to bring the Dodgers within 1 game of their first Championship since 1988.
Defeating the red-hot Tampa Bay Rays wasn't entirely sunshine and rainbows. What hasn't been said about Game 4 and Game 6, in particular?
If Game 4's ending doesn't give you chills, stop reading. We don't want you here.
Let's set the stage: the Dodgers are looking to shut the door and make it a 3-1 series, with an elite version of Kershaw starting the next game. Kenley Jansen, a perennial Reliever of the Year candidate, comes in to put the Rays to sleep. All of a sudden, Yandy Diaz gets on base, then Randy Arozarena.
Brett Phillips, the 28th man on the roster out of 28 possible spots, steps in. He was traded for virtually nothing, and hit less than .200 on both teams he played for this year, yet stands in the batter's box with confidence.
Instantly dubbed as the "Buckner play" of our generation, who would've thought the same guy that got famous for his ridiculous belly-laugh would be the same one that evens the World Series?!
But after 4 years of soul-crushing losses, the Dodgers would come out on top. They rode their stellar Game 5 performance from Kershaw, their elite bullpen efforts, and their clutch home runs to their first World Series title in 32 years.
We will casually leave out the part about Justin Turner contracting COVID-19 mid-game - that alone would require another 10-minute read.
When the last TV was turned off and Joe Buck uttered his last word, it was done - and against all odds, they did it. We got our season.
Who would've thought it took five simple words to bring out the best in our game?
"Tell us when and where."
And they played. And they did it so well. And they did it with passion, emotion, joy, anger, thoughtfulness, frustration, and - above all - a desire to reclaim our game from the apathy that narrowly, but briefly, threatened it.
Here's to you, baseball. Keep amazing us. We'll be here watching.