So many changes in baseball. Spring training mostly has the charm of a moderate-security prison. Get your autograph through a chain-link fence.
But here, courtesy of Ed Martin, is funky old McKechnie Field in Bradenton, just as I remember it from 1980.
The left-field corner. I touched on this a few weeks ago when I described how I wandered into the Pirates’ clubhouse to visit my friend Bill Robinson while the Royals took practice. When I came back on the field, I spotted a kid playing pepper with the Royals in the left-field corner. Good grief, that was our son, David, then 10.
He had his glove on (the one with Jim Rice’s autograph from a chance meeting in Boston) and was scooping the ball off the ground in the time-honored ritual of baseball, when players enjoyed the fundamentals of their business. This must have gone on for 15 minutes before the Royals left the field, and David hopped back into the stands.
To make sure my memory is correct, the other day I asked David to resurrect the event. This is what he wrote:
“Not much to it ....Some other kid and I were in the stands long before the game, picking up all the foul balls. We were standing by the rail when the Royals pitchers came out and one of them asked us if we wanted to hop the fence. I THINK it was the one that died young, whose name I can't remember.”
Dan Quisenberry? He had been a rookie the year before, was a great guy, gregarious and smart, became a good friend of Roger Angell, and was mentioned in Angell’s beautiful riff recently on the passing of time. Quisenberry died at 45 in 1998, of a brain tumor.
Whether it was Quisenberry or not -- and it sounds like something he would do, give a thrill to a couple of kids in the stands -- the gesture created a legend in our household: a boy with hair down to his shoulders, playing pepper on a spring-training field in a more informal time.
"Think about it,” David concluded the other day. “Not only would that never happen these days, but do ballplayers even play pepper?”
They don’t even take infield practice anymore. But fans still carry their gloves to games and try to get close to the players in retro places like funky old McKechnie Field.
* * *
PS: David still loves the game. In case you missed it, here is his essay in last Sunday’s New York Times:
PPS: The photograph of Andrew McCutchen is by Ed Martin, formerly the president of the great Abilities, Inc., in Albertson, L.I., and previously the assistant secretary of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Carter Administration. We have very classy volunteer photographers.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.