• Exclusives

    The Silence Roars as Braves, MLB Stop Season Prep

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    SOMEWHERE IN NORTH GEORGIA – The silence is jarring, although physically I couldn’t hear the pop of a mitt or crack of a bat at spring training while sitting here some 550 miles north of North Port, Fla. Somehow, that’s the beauty of March, because you don’t have to be present at a Grapefruit League game to feel the building anticipation of a brand new season.

    But with opening day just two weeks out, the Atlanta Braves and the rest of Major League Baseball came to a screeching halt Thursday.

    The coronavirus crisis descended on the sports world with unrelenting fury in the past 24 hours, leading to the suspension of the NBA, NHL and MLS seasons, as well as the immediate stoppage of spring training and (at least) a two-week delay of the start of baseball season. In dizzying fashion, the NCAA basketball tournaments (and all spring championships, including the College World Series) were canceled. Conference basketball tournaments were stopped.

    And without a doubt, these all were the absolute correct calls to make. The coronavirus continues to spread silently throughout the nation and around the globe. Schools shuttered, colleges closed, employees urged to work remotely if possible, and the gathering of large crowds in public discouraged – or in some places, banned altogether.

    I’ll admit it’s all a bit scary. It’s normally not my place in this space to tell you how to act or what to do from a citizen standpoint. I’m merely a former sports writer who blogs about the Braves. I work in segment marketing for a tech company by day. In my spare time, I write freelance game previews for a content company, but that gig is up for the time being. There are no games to preview, no matchups to describe.

    I’m also someone who lives with a spouse who has health problems, a mother who is a cancer survivor and sits a few months shy of 70, and two teenage sons – one who is rehabbing from knee surgery. Two weeks from tonight, we had planned to delight in turning on our TVs to watch Ronald Acuna Jr. step into the batter’s box at Chase Field for Madison Bumgarner’s first pitch as an Arizona Diamondback, the beginning act of a seven-month passion play many of us hope will end with the Braves playing on the biggest stage the sport has to offer.

    Instead, we’re left with silence, at a time of year sports fans greet with immense joy. Our plates typically overflow right now, our ears immersed with the grand symphony of NBA and NHL playoff races, the spectacle of March Madness, the beginning of college baseball and MLS, PGA events and NASCAR races and, of course, baseball’s annual awakening from its winter slumber.

    It’s hard to encapsulate my emotions tonight. As news of the coronavirus grew more dire in the days leading to Wednesday night and Thursday, I started getting the sense baseball would not start on time. Unlike other events that cause disruption to daily life, you can’t see a virus. You can see storm damage. You can see the rubble of a building. But you can’t see a global pandemic.

    The uncertainty is the unknown. There is no timetable. We don’t know if we’re in the third inning, or the seventh. There isn’t a playbook for this. We’ve been through major weather events. Sadly, we’ve been through a terrorist attack. But it’s been 100 years since the Spanish Flu swept the nation – canceling the Stanley Cup Finals – and the world today is a vastly different place.

    A quieter place than mere days ago.

    The opening of baseball season is a joyous occasion for so many. The weather is warming, the days are lengthening, the flowers are blooming, and thousands gather in stadiums from coast to coast to welcome back each other and our dear daily companion, baseball. But on April 3, which many of us planned to spend at Truist Park watching the Braves open the home portion of their schedule against Miami, there will be no baseball. No flyovers. No tailgates.

    The ballpark will be silent, as quiet as the other yards and courts and rinks that span the continent tonight.

    We can only hope the silence – and the deadly virus that caused it – is brief.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.