By Nick Wagner
In early March, the sports world was taken by storm. The NCAA cancelled its March Madness basketball tournament on March 12, leaving athletes and fans all over the country upset and in disbelief. COVID-19 was in control and nobody could do anything about it.
The world knows a lot more about the virus today than we did then. But there is still so much confusion. People don’t know what’s going to happen, not just with sports, but with everyday life, in general.
America is hurting without sports, no doubt about it. But we hear of the heroics and the sacrifices that people in the health and medical field are making. We hear of pay cuts for workers, and small business owners and restaurants struggling. Through our history, sports has united Americans and lifted the country’s spirit in times like these. The men and women who cover sports have had some time to reflect on what it means to not be without it. Longtime St. Louis Blues PA announcer Tom Calhoun says even with hockey suspended mid-season, it doesn’t significantly affect what he does.
“It’s just an interruption in a very odd time of the year. My job will be the same on game nights when the games are played again,” Calhoun said. “The big effect is on people who have been laid off or lost their jobs because of this. Some of the full-time people are engaged in efforts to figure out how best to approach the schedule when play resumes. That will be a tough decision. Other team employees are dealing with trying to keep the fans engaged in thinking about hockey during this odd time in everyone’s life. So that’s also a difficult job.”
The defending Stanley Cup champions were in first place in the Western Conference and playing extremely well heading into the playoffs when the pandemic hit home. Fans were left wondering what the disruption would mean for the team if the season did resume.
“I would think the team will be anxious to defend their Stanley Cup championship when play resumes. If that means finishing the regular season first…or starting with the playoffs, I think this group is full of strong personalities and leadership and will be ready,” Calhoun said. “The break in play, of course, will give everybody time to heal up from any injuries that they had. And Vladimir Tarasenko will be available, too. So I think they should be in a good position to come out strong.”
Calhoun is confident in the return of the Blues if the season does resume, but for now, it is important for everyone to stay healthy.
“I would say to Blues fans that they should first of all be safe and take care of themselves. We don’t want any fans to not be able to come to games because they got sick,” he said. “I would also say that the NHL and Blues players and management are sure to do the right thing when it comes to how and when to re-start the season. It’s hard to be patient. But I would say to do your best to have patience and keep talking about hockey online or with friends.”
The Blues are not the only team being missed by St. Louis sports fans. The Cardinals were unable to have their home opener on April 2. This week, Major League Baseball announced a proposal for an 82-game season to begin play in early July, with limitations on travel and likely without fans in the stands.
Cardinals fans were eager to get back to baseball this year after a disappointing 2019 season.
“I think the Cardinals would have an advantage because it would be a high volume of games in a short period of time and that means that there would be a heavy accent on pitching,” said veteran sportscaster Frank Cusumano, who is the sports director for KSDK Channel 5. “I think the Cardinals have more major league-ready arms than any team in the division and maybe the entire league, so I think that’s an advantage for the Cardinals.”
It seems the hold on sports is affecting St. Louis sports fans, who had a lot to look forward to before the COVID-19 virus put everything to a halt.
“There’s no doubt about it. I think that right now, more than ever, it is really hitting our town because we would be in the first round of the Blues defending their Stanley Cup. We would be in the early stages of this Cardinals season and some off-the-chart pitching also,” Cusumano said.
While St. Louis and the rest of the world anticipate a new normal in the wake of the pandemic, the return of sports is one of the things most of us will welcome with open arms.
“My message is that it’s coming back. It’s gonna come back this summer and it’s going to make us appreciate it even more,” Cusumano said. “You know how much we would all just kill to watch a beautiful game at Busch Stadium? I would just say it’s gonna happen and it’s gonna happen this summer – and sooner than you think.”