The Pandemic Diary: April 28

Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.

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April 28: I mentioned a month ago that many of my California friends have noted that a silver lining to the pandemic shutdown has been uncommonly clean and clear California air. Turns out that may have been, largely, a coincidence.

The L.A. Times reports that while all the cars being off the road can’t hurt, the declines in pollution and the record number of high quality air days of late are (a) likely weather-related; and (b) are already over, as this week’s California heat wave is jacking smog levels back up to gross levels, even without cars being on the road.

“The period in green was particularly stormy, with frequent storm systems, rain and atypically high inversion heights,” said Nahal Mogharabi, a spokeswoman for the South Coast AQMD. “It is possible that this was partially due to reduced emissions, but meteorology likely played a much larger role.”

I think most of us want to find some unintended benefits to all of this. To make it feel worth it beyond just the public health effects which are often hard to see. We want to say we used our time well or that something good has come out of it. That’s totally understandable. But I think reaching for some that aren’t really there is fairly inevitable too, and this may be one of those cases.

 

The Wall Street Journal has a story up about Airbnb hosts who are carrying tens of thousands of dollars in monthly mortgage payments or business loans to operate their little mini real estate empires and who are screwed because no one is, obviously, traveling or booking Airbnbs. While I do not wish ill on any person, “multi-unit Airbnb owners” are about 4,593th on my list of people I have sympathy for in all of this. In no small part because their taking apartments off the rental market has a great deal to do with why rents are spiraling in major cities. My message to them: Game Over. Thank you for playing Capitalism. It involves risk. Insert coin and try again.

 

Baseball is a business that entails less financial risk than a lot of others given that the people who own baseball teams are not subject to the antitrust laws. And because they routinely get taxpayers to give them money for stadiums by playacting as civic institutions rather than for-profit businesses. At least when it suits them. Now the people who run baseball seem to want to play the field, geographically speaking, by following various states or cities as they race to the bottom.

I wrote about this over at the day job today. The short version: baseball has the beginning of a number of ill-formed plans on how to start its season, but as time goes on these plans seem to be coalescing around the notion of playing in various “hubs” like Arizona, Texas, and Florida, likely with no fans. The more I follow this the more it seems like they’re going to do what they can do to create an air of inevitability of the sports’ return and then locate itself in places that are pursuing the most aggressive re-opening strategies. Because of that whole inevitability thing, and because people are hungering for sports to return, baseball likely thinks — and likely correctly thinks — that it can avoid catching hell for acting irresponsibly in its quest to get back in business.

I’ve covered baseball for a long time. I love the game and always will. I have come to loathe the business side of things, however, and I rarely go wrong in assuming the worst from those who run the game. If there’s a way to make an extra buck they will go for it at basically any cost and, especially in the past five years or so, increasingly at the cost of the game’s dignity. No, this is not all that different than what most businesses do, but most businesses don’t capture your imagination when you’re a little kid and fill you with wonder for much of your life, largely on the premise of it being about something greater than just revenue maximization. Most businesses don’t dine out on the notion that they’re a public institution. The National Pastime.

All I know for certain is that Major League Baseball, as an institution, is very good at disguising itself as something other than a business when doing so works to its advantage. We’re going to be seeing that here over the next month or two as MLB pursues a reopening plan that we’d likely never tolerate from a restaurant chain, a movie production studio, or a consumer goods chain. It will bang the drum for the game’s return, and the game’s surrogates, many of whom call themselves reporters but often assume the role of public relations people, will bang the drum as well. All on the premise that it’s a necessary part of the nation recovering and moving on when, in reality, we would survive just fine if it were more cautious. And that if baseball were more cautious it might inspire others to be too.

It’ll be a two-way street as well, as politicians will use Major League Baseball and the other professional sports as a means of opening things up more quickly. Why else would New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put executives from the Mets, Yankees, Knicks, and Buffalo Sabres on his big re-opening advisory committee? The sports industry will use politicians to get what they want and politicians will use sports to get what they want. It happens all the time in the normal course and it will happen here too. When it does, I fear that actual public health considerations will take a back seat to the bread and circuses.

 

All of that is a drag. What’s not a drag: pizza.

This evening Allison told me she had ordered me one. But not for tonight. For Friday. Which seemed weird to me, but then she explained that it’s from Jim’s Pizza. Jim’s Pizza is not an actual business. Jim is Allison’s boss, who has a wood-fired pizza oven at his house. He and his wife set up a spreadsheet and anyone at the office who wants a custom made wood-fired pizza on Friday can place their order and swing by and pick up their pizza at a set time. I got the 6:45pm slot and my pepperoni, black olive, mushroom pie will be waiting for me, courtesy of Jim and his wife Kristi. I’m really looking forward to it.

 

In other pizza news, my son continues to be the only person in my family working out of the house, doing 4-5 shifts a week at his pizza place. He worked this afternoon and early evening. When I dropped him off the manager of his store was outside having a smoke. We’d only met once briefly, but I think Carlo has told him what I do because he wanted to talk about baseball with me. I sat in my car as he leaned against the brick wall outside the restaurant’s back door.

He’s an Indians fan and misses the games. He wants to know if they’re going to trade Francisco Lindor. He wants to know if Mike Clevinger will be healthy enough to pitch when games resume. He says he’s tried to watch old games online or on flashback broadcasts on the Indians’ network, but it’s not the same. “God, the grass sure looked shitty in the 80s, didn’t it?” He asked me if I had any idea about when the game will come back. I guessed July but I saved him my editorializing about it all. I have a small, hardcore readership who enjoys it when I get all critical like I did above, but most sports fans don’t want to hear it.

All that being said, it was kind of nice to talk about baseball with someone in real life. It’s been a long while since I’ve really done that.

 

I’ve been kind of burned out on cooking lately. Well, burned out on meal planning more than cooking. Even in lockdown our schedules are hard to match up. Sometimes Carlo works, sometimes he doesn’t. Some nights Anna works, which is online, and which requires her to be at her computer until 8pm or later. Some nights Allison is at the barn, sometimes she isn’t. Her dietary restrictions are something I’m used to, but they are still a complicating factor when it comes to meal planning. It gets to be a lot, and it’s even worse when simply getting in the car and going to a restaurant is not the option that it once was.

Tonight Allison suggested that I just do something basic and fun like French bread pizzas, so I got the stuff for that. I still didn’t feel much like cooking though, so I put the pro pizza maker to work when his shift ended:

He was mildly annoyed at how janky our pizza operation was compared to his, and that he didn’t get paid a dime for it, but it was all OK in the end.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.