Odd became normal: sports’ masked road trip to the unknown

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - Cardboard cutouts rest in seats at Oracle Park as the San Francisco Giants play the San Diego Padres during the first inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, in this Wednesday, July 29, 2020, file photo. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

Take your pick.

Maybe it was a Big East Tournament basketball game that broke for halftime and never returned. Or the cardboard cutouts of spectators that replaced flesh-and blood fans in stadiums across the country. Or the Maui Invitational relocated from the pounding Hawaiian surf to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Or the racehorse named for Dr. Anthony Fauci (a second-place finisher at Belmont Park to a horse called Prisoner.)

What wasn’t odd in 2020, when the coronavirus was the commissioner of all sports? The whole year was a long Alice in Wonderland tumble down a rabbit hole. And, before long, the odd became the new normal. Masked coaches patrolled the sidelines looking as if they had been lifted from the set of a cheesy cops-and-robbers movie. But, after a while, they became, well, just coaches.

Still, to capture the full freakishness of the sports year it may have helped to be working in a car rental agency in St. Louis or riding north on I-55 one day in mid-August.

The Cardinals, rocked by the virus and having not played in more than two weeks, were set to return in Chicago. To get there, and minimize safety risks, the team rented 41 cars for everyone in the traveling party. The players and staff grabbed whatever cars they could at the lot and headed out -- a caravan, not of camels, but fully loaded sedans and SUVs. Manager Mike Shildt brought up the rear in a GMC Yukon.

“I mean at this point, you almost laugh at everything that you have to do,” pitcher Adam Wainwright said. “It’s just a sign of the times. We’re in a weird phase right now.”

It was a phase of the moon in which the only sensible response was to howl. The wailing came from all corners.

VEXED, PERPLEXED: Garth Brooks, a big Detroit Lions fan, posted a photo of himself wearing a jersey of famed running back Barry Sanders. The back of the jersey said “Sanders” and “20.” Some of the country star’s fans took that as a 2020 presidential endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders. “I’ve listened to your songs for the last time,” wrote one person. ...