What are you doing Wednesday afternoon? Have any plans? I have an idea of something you might want to do.
Last year's MLB regular season ended on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, and the World Series, which as you might remember went seven games, ended on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. This year's baseball regular season ends on Sunday, Oct. 1, which -- even though the playoff schedule and dates won't be released until deep into the regular season -- gives us at least a rough idea of what could be the next day -- after Wednesday -- in which there will be no baseball or baseball-related activity in our lives: Wednesday, Nov. 1. That is 255 days away from now.
Sure, there will be the day before the All-Star Game (which has the Home Run Derby, anyway), and the two days after the All-Star break (which frankly feel like they last about three months), and if there are no tiebreakers, there will be the day after the regular season before the first Wild Card Game, but other than those -- and we're talking about baseball on all those days anyway -- Tuesday is it, kids. Tuesday -- like, that day that's just after this weekend -- is the last day that baseball will not be a regular part of your day for 252 days.
On Wednesday, the Arizona Diamondbacks will play the Grand Canyon Antelopes -- a university I've written a lot about, incidentally -- and on Thursday the Tigers, Red Sox and Phillies will all play college teams, and then on Friday, Major League teams will start playing each other and then next Saturday, pretty much everybody plays and then we are off.
In Milwaukee, it is currently 28 degrees. There is snow on the ground in New York City. It's in the 40s in Seattle. It's nearly 20 degrees in Philadelphia. You're tired. The news is exhausting. You're cold and cranky and everybody's kids are sick with something, which means that you and everybody you know are sick with something. The world looks dark and freezing and empty. It's mid-February, the worst time of year, on every calendar, on every year. Mid-February is a time to be survived. It's a time to endure.
It feels like it will never end. But know: This is happening, right now, this very second.
This weekend is the last one for more than 250 days that you will not be awash in baseball. Positively awash in it! Next Saturday, there are 16 baseball games. 16! (The Cubs and Pirates are playing split-squad games, which is why you can have more baseball games than there are in fact teams to play them.) They will come every day, everywhere you look, for 250 more days.
This is the thing about baseball, the thing that I think people don't quite get when they talk about shortening games, or attention spans, or the buzzy Pace Of Play. In his terrific new book "Off-Speed," author Terry McDermott writes that the charm of baseball, what makes baseball work, is that it is a la carte. You can have some of it, you can have all of it, you can take a day off of it … it is always there for you, however you need it. "Baseball awards attention," McDermott writes. "It also rewards inattention. It can be enjoyed at whatever level of focus you want to give it."
That's what we miss when we focus on how long one particular game is. (Now, if people want to start getting serious about making sure that postseason games end before every person under 13 years old has been asleep for hours, then we're talking.) Some days, I don't want a baseball game to last three hours. Some days, I don't even need to know much more than the score. Some days, though, I want the games to go on and on and on, I want one game to end and then I want to go watch another one and then another until the only thing that ever was and ever will be is baseball. The point is that baseball is always there when you need it, and always there when you don't. You can obsess, you can dabble, you can stare, you can just glance up every once in a while.
There are days that the baseball is the NCAA Tournament, a day when you lap up every game with fevered intensity. There are days when it is the Super Bowl, when one game means everything. And there are days when it's a lazy preseason exhibition game where most people aren't paying attention and you've spent more time getting the kid ice cream and you forgot to look up when Bryce Harper homered and that's OK because you were in the midst of telling a funny story and another nice thing about baseball is that you can tell a funny story while it's going on and not feel like you have to just stare at it every second. And yet if you stare at it every second, you'll have a blast with that, too.
The world is unnatural when baseball is not happening, like it has not been happening since Nov. 2, 2016, because baseball is the perpetual backdrop: We need it as the backdrop because it can emerge into the foreground at any moment, but it doesn't have to. Baseball is a river. Sometimes you dip your toes in, sometimes you go rafting, sometimes you swim around all day, sometimes you just watch the water flow from far away, sometimes you stay inside and play video games and don't notice the river at all. But the river is always there. The only good thing about so many days without baseball is that it reminds us how lost we are without it.
This is the last weekend without it. This is the last weekend when it's not there for you. You've waited a long time. Come Wednesday, it'll be 252 days until it's gone. Take a deep breath. You've almost made it now.