Just as I was starting to emerge from being homebound for much of February, I had to go back into seclusion. In the earlier case, I was recovering from knee replacement surgery. Now I am observing a statewide quarantine to stem the spread of COVID-19.
When I was virtually immobilized by the stiffness of my post-surgical right knee, at least I had sports to follow. As I sat on the couch and put my leg through the excruciating extensions and contractions of physical therapy, I welcomed the distractions of televised European soccer in midday and NBA or college basketball in the evening. I was able to view UCSB basketball and baseball games on streaming live video.
It was with mixed emotions that I had chosen to undergo the replacement surgery. It was not a life-or-death situation (hence, elective surgeries are not being performed while the medical community braces for coronavirus cases). I could still get around, even ride a bike, with my creaky knees, both of them bone-on-bone arthritic. But the right one ached constantly and acutely, 54 years after it had undergone an operation that excised most of the cartilage. My surgeon said he found old sutures from that procedure when he cleaned out the joint last month.
Three weeks after my new knee was installed, I could hobble around with a cane and was able to get out of the house. I attended two UCSB basketball games — women’s and men’s, both teams ending the regular season on winning streaks — and saw the Westmont College women play like the nation’s No. 1 NAIA team.
In an astonishing cascade of events during the following days, March Madness took on a new meaning. It was not about basketball or any other sport — they were all shut down, along with every other activity that draws numbers of people together. I was confined to home again by a quarantine that is designed for the protection of baby boomers like me.
But now I had no sports to follow. What was I to do?
READING: Sports Illustrated arrived in the mailbox. The magazine is now published monthly. This is the baseball preview edition. Predictions include: Yankees over the Dodgers in the World Series, and the American League Cy Young Award going to Cleveland pitcher Shane Bieber, just four years after he was throwing strikes for the Gauchos. The Dodgers were supposed to open the season against the Giants today (Thursday, March 26). Sorry.
A sports story from the Associated Press: UCSB freshman Ila Lane has been named to the AP All-America women’s basketball team. Lane is among 22 players listed as honorable mention. The 6’4″ center led the nation in rebounding average, and her 19 double-doubles ranked fourth. She averaged 15.3 points and 13 rebounds per game. She is the fourth UCSB women’s All-American, following Erin Buescher (1999, 2000), Lindsay Taylor (2003), and Kristen Mann (2004, 2005). With three years remaining in her career, could Lane surpass those Gaucho greats?
I pulled out some volumes from my eclectic assortment of books.
When the Crowd Didn’t Roar: How Baseball’s Strangest Game Ever Gave a Broken City Hope, by Kevin Cowherd. It is an account of the April 29, 2015, game between the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox, the only major league game ever played without fans. The gates of Camden Yards were locked because of rioting in the streets of Baltimore. Angels manager Joe Maddon recently suggested that the 2020 major league season could start with fan-less games until the coronavirus threat diminishes.
Heart of a Lion: The Life, Death, and Legacy of Hank Gathers, by Kyle Keiderling. On March 4, 1990, Gathers, a transcendent Loyola Marymount basketball player, collapsed and died from a heart arrhythmia during a postseason tournament game. Three months previously, he had fallen momentarily unconscious at the free-throw line during a game against UCSB; it was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Gathers was driving himself toward NBA stardom, and his death created a sensation that is reminiscent of this year’s Kobe Bryant tragedy.
This Old Man, by Roger Angell. Baseball is a recurring subject in this compilation of pieces written with eloquence and style by the 99-year-old Angell during and since his years as a New Yorker editor.
Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit. The author leaves no paths unexplored in describing past and present manifestations of our uniquely human form of upright bipedal locomotion. It is a vital way of connecting us to the world.
WATCHING & LISTENING: My wife is delighted that there are no sports events to compete with her favorite television programs — a reward well deserved after she cared for me and put up with me throughout the ongoing rehabilitation of my knee.
There was plenty of time for me to slip in some sports programming. I enjoyed This Is Football, a six-part series on Amazon Prime that shows how the sport — known to us as soccer — captivates the world. One segment covers the growth of women’s soccer (credit to the United States), and it tells the inspiring story of Japan’s women, who twice came from behind to win the 2011 World Cup final over their American idols.
Fans of boxing might like Netflix’s Spenser Confidential, starring Mark Wahlberg as a cop turned detective who becomes a punching bag for various unsavory characters before he turns the tables on them with the help of his sidekick Hawk, the imposing Winston Duke. It’s very loosely based on the Spenser page-turners written by Robert B. Parker.
The outrageous and sometimes hilarious TV series Brockmire returned for its final season on IFC last week. Hank Azaria is a foul-mouthed sportscaster who returns from exile to become commissioner of baseball in 2030, when the sport is barely surviving in a world that has been ravaged by virus and withering climate change.
Then there is the news, the bad, bad news, leavened by stories of people doing good works. When will I watch live sports again? I’m counting on Tokyo’s Summer Olympic Games … in 2021.
GETTING OUT: We’ve observed the rules of going out for essential errands only, which for me includes twice weekly physical therapy sessions — and for recreation, as long as six feet of social distance is maintained. With each passing day, walking becomes easier for me, and the beach was a perfect place to take some long strolls last week. Extremely low tides left a vast expanse of sand, and chilly weather was a deterrent to populating the shore, so social distancing was no problem. I heard that it was a problem on Southern California beaches over the weekend and can only hope I can continue this refreshing activity. Otherwise, I’ll find other places to walk, breathe, and be thankful for a life that is so full of opportunities in spite of inconveniences.