Sports is one of the most important things in my life. Living without sports from March to July of 2020 gave me a lot more time to focus on classes and other important parts of life, but still, something felt different and missing.
My dad taught me to appreciate sports as a child, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I didn’t have any dreams of playing sports professionally, but there were a few years where I dreamed my name was being called out in the starting lineup of high school basketball games, while fans cheered and applauded.
On July 8, the MLS is Back Tournament kicked off in Orlando and MLB started up two weeks later, followed by the start of the NBA’s bubble.
Those dreams faded when I never hit a real growth spurt and I decided I didn’t want to exert myself too often, but sports have always been a part of who I am.
As the Mariners returned for the shortened 2020 season, I was actually grocery shopping when I saw that Kyle Lewis hit a home run in his first at bat of the season. Six months later, the Mariners missed the playoffs, but Lewis was unanimously voted the American League Rookie of the Year, the first Mariner to receive that award in twenty years.
In the NBA playoffs, there were many amazing game winning shots that I saw clips of blasted over the internet. The NFL and MLS also returned, as the Seahawks made the playoffs again and the Sounders went to the MLS cup final.
Sports were back, and I remember being happy. But something was missing.
Lewis hit homer after homer and made catch after catch, but the only voices heard were announcers and teammates screaming. Looking back to Lewis’ first career homer against the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, the crowd buzzed in anticipation as the ball left the bat, and built to a roar as the ball flew over the fence. The crowd recognized the moment’s meaning, and appreciated it.
Game winning shots in the NBA bubble, while crazy plays, seemed different as well. Players’ reactions help us identify with them, and pumped in crowd noise adds meaning, but it’s not the same.
When seasons resumed, I thought it was a bad idea to let fans into stadiums. After all, sports don’t need fans. Just give ten basketball players a ball and two hoops or eighteen baseball players a bat and a ball and you’re all set to go.
Now, while I’m glad that sports were played during this continued period of darkness, I’m ecstatic that fans are slowly, or in some cases not so slowly, as the Texas Rangers allowed 38,238 fans into their opening day game, being allowed to return to sports stadiums.
The realization struck me when I sat down to watch the NCAA Division I college basketball tournament, lovingly known by sports fans everywhere as March Madness. This tournament was something that I missed a lot last year, and maybe it’s because it was finally back after two years, or maybe it’s because of the limited amount of fans in the stands, but the entire tournament felt electric.
Teams that were favored to go far went down quickly, and as Alex Reese of Alabama launched a shot from deep three point range to send the game to overtime versus UCLA, the roar of the crowd was deafening. The same thing happened when Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga banked in a three pointer to send his squad to the championship. The limited number of fans in attendance went nuts.
Bedlam. Craziness. Unpredictability. This is what sports should be. Events with larger crowds are often more memorable, as everyone feeds off the energy they feel from others around them. Even if you know nothing about sports, it’s easy to follow the screams of others around you when things go well, and boo and groan when things go wrong.
When one person feels an emotion, that emotion is present, but in a muted way. As more and more people are present to experience the joy of a win, that joy becomes more and more palpable through the crowd, and can even bleed through a TV or laptop screen to those watching at home.
Of course, safety of everyone must always be a priority, but I am happy that stadiums around the country are beginning to fill up again. Energy and passion is returning to sports, as it is also returning to the world.
Before I graduate next spring, I would love to head down to Royal Brougham Pavilion or Interbay Stadium and enjoy a well-played contest. Part of the appeal of sports is high production value, but even without the resources, sports are better enjoyed in person. When time allows, sink into your seat and forget about the cares of the world for a few hours. You won’t regret it, even if your team loses.