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Sara’s Diary, Day 124 without baseball: Practice games

We got a glimpse of what baseball will look like on Marquee Network this week

MLB: Chicago Cubs-Workouts
In pandemic baseball we celebrate home runs with heel clicks
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to preface this entire entry with a caveat. I cannot even imagine how frustrated everyone without Marquee Sports Network is right now. Actually, I take that back, I can imagine it because I remember how frustrated I was before a deal was reached with RCN. I was furious and preemptively disappointed. But that was also in January, a full month before the Cubs reported to Spring Training in Arizona. So far the only programming I’ve missed on Marquee Sports Network was the initial launch show, which was delayed by RCN for some unknown reason. Missing the return of baseball would be beyond aggravating for me in normal times. With all of the additional anxiety and stress of four months of the COVID-19 pandemic it must be unbearable.

That said, I was emotionally unprepared for how much I’d missed baseball. As the minutes ticked towards 6 p.m. yesterday I found myself in tears on my couch. I’m not trying to be melodramatic about this, but baseball is such a big part of my summer and in a summer that has been so tremendously abnormal hearing the familiar voices of Len and JD announce the lineups brought me to tears:

Blue Team Lineup July 14
Marquee Sports Network

But let’s be real, even with walk-up music and crowd noise piped into Wrigley Field, pandemic baseball is not normal in dozens of different ways. I tried to capture a few of those as I was watching the game. For starters, check out Len, JD and Cubs field reporter Taylor McGregor all in different boxes as they socially distance:

Socially distanced announcers
Marquee Sports Network

I was pleasantly surprised to see all three umpires for the Cubs scrimmage in masks after we learned that masks are optional for umpires:

The umpires aren’t the only ones masked up, though. Coaches are required to wear masks at all times and I was also pretty impressed with the size of the industrial-sized hand sanitizer bottle they keep nearby:

Coaches, masks and hand sanitizer, oh my!
Marquee Sports Network

I’ve been wondering how the Cubs would celebrate home runs now that high fives are prohibited. Willson Contreras hit a no doubt bomb to dead center in the first inning so we learned the answer to that pretty fast. The Cubs celebrate with heel clicks:

Pandemic baseball celebrations
Marquee Sports Network

As for the game itself, it’s a practice game so I try not to read too much into anything, but Kyle Hendricks was so efficient he threw a four out sixth inning to hit his pitch count. Javier Báez hit an absolute bomb to left field that studio host Cole Wright ran over to retrieve. An aside, it’s sort of fun that the hosts at Marquee get as excited about these home runs as we do:

Incidentally, the umpires are apparently only at these games for five innings and I’ve been getting a kick out of Contreras and Victor Caratini calling the strike zone in the later part of the game:

Catchers calling balls and strikes
Marquee Sports Network

I also like seeing a bit of an insight into how David Ross is using these practice games and managing his team. When Craig Kimbrel gave up some hard contact late in the game, Ross moved into position right behind the catcher to get a better view of Kimbrel’s stuff:

David Ross keeping an eye on his pitchers
Marquee Sports Network

Wednesday’s game brought more fun like this Contreras blast. Yes, he bat flipped against his own pitcher, because he’s Willson:

It’s not all bat flips and homers on the North Side of Chicago. Wednesday also brought some new faces to Wrigley Field after reports that six Cubs players didn’t receive their COVID-19 test results in time for today’s practice game:

Cubs fans have yet to see first baseman Anthony Rizzo in a game at Wrigley Field in 2020. The Cubs captain missed both games due to lower back tightness. He had an MRI that indicated he’s dealing with some rib inflammation:

But even with the pandemic precautions, the lack of fans, the testing delays and sandlot rules, it’s been beyond wonderful to see this Cubs team play baseball again. It’s made me happy in a way I’d forgotten existed until yesterday. Here’s hoping the deal with Comcast comes through soon so the rest of Chicago can experience that feeling as well.