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We’re about to close the book on one of the craziest years in my lifetime. At 30 years old, I’ve hardly seen as much as the next person, but to say this calendar was filled with unprecedented events would be putting it lightly. Through it all though, we had baseball, and that was a distraction I know that I needed. I remember many months ago now, waking up from a nap and looking at my phone. There was an alert from ESPN noting that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter accident. As I processed that, it didn’t hit me as to what the magnitude I’d feel from that event would be. Kobe was a cultural icon, more than just a basketball player, and despite being a Jordan guy he was an athlete I respected. From there, things got worse. I’ll never forget sitting in Pott’s Sports Café in Fort Myers, Florida on March 13. The night before Rudy Gobert had tested positive for Coronavirus and the NBA effectively closed its doors. Covering the Twins Spring Training, things seemed ominous that morning as teams had already gone to distancing fans from players with roped off areas. By noon, Major League Baseball had put a halt on all operations. I hopped a flight and headed home. Since that day, I have not returned to the office for my day job. We’ve dealt with closings of restaurants, public spaces, wearing masks, and plenty of other new versions of normal. Minneapolis experienced extreme racial unrest as the city turned into a warzone. There’s been political and social unrest, and countless other prominent figures that have now left us. For a brief four-month period though, there was baseball. Leading up to the regular season we watched as the commissioner and ownership groups publicly tore down their players in an effort to squeeze profits through what would be a different year. There was uncertainty as to whether a season would be played at all and writing about the sport took a different turn. There was no minor league action to cover, and in months there typically would have been action, an ability to get creative was necessary. As the dust settled though, we had the resumption of a game. Teams were diligent in their efforts to avoid Covid-19 outbreaks, the play on the field checked in at a high level, and the Los Angeles Dodgers won a World Series. Back in early summer, none of that seemed remotely possible. More than any other year, I needed this out. I lost my grandpa to cancer in August, and the day following his funeral my 59-year-old father died in a car accident. I’ve spent more time in a cemetery over the past three months than I have during the entire duration of my life. I know that my challenges in 2020 are not alone, and that this year has been trying on so many. Financial distress, learning to cope with new working situations, understanding how to handle a certain level of social isolation, the totality of it all is not lost on anyone. At the end of the day though, it was this, a child’s game, that provided a reprieve. We’ll have baseball again, the world will heal, and we can all be better and stronger people for what we have overcome. It will forever be a passion to break down the effectiveness of Jorge Polanco at shortstop, or whether Jose Berrios will round into a bonafide ace. Even if you take away that type of consumption though, the purity of a game, the crack of the bat, and the smell of fresh cut grass will always be an inviting escape. Thank you for venturing on this journey with me, and I look forward to a more consistent level of normalcy in the months ahead. Below you’ll also find some of my favorite pieces from this season. Women in Baseball Series Kobe Was So Much More than Basketball Byron Buxton's Next Great Act Art Proving Unexpected Outlet to Fill the Baseball Void What's Happening at the Alternate Site? For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
Heroes get remembered but legends never die. That’s what we were told in that 1993 classic right? I have long been of the belief that idolizing celebrities or athletes almost certainly isn’t a good practice, but we can absolutely learn from them. At its core, I think that’s why the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant hit me so differently. The Black Mamba was an 18-year-old rookie that went on to play over 1,300 games, score over 33,000 points, and will go down among the inner-circle of greatest hoopers ever. During his career though, he wasn’t my guy. Despite being too young to really appreciate his greatness, I was Team Jordan. Kobe represented the villain. He was a dominating force that stopped at nothing to best his opponent. It wasn’t until years later that reflection set in for me. Baseball, basketball, or otherwise, the reality is that the athletes we see on a field of play are as flawed and fallible as the rest of us. It is in that reality where pedestals crumble and holding those we may never meet in such high regard can end up feeling empty. It’s also in that same vein that Kobe transcended what he was on the court inside of Staples Center. During summer of 2003 Kobe made arguably the worst decision of his life. At best he was an adulterer and cheater; at worst something substantially more reprehensible. What he was during those times though was human. At the top of the basketball world, he still faced the same trials, setbacks, and punishments that many others around the world could find themselves involved in. That’s not to dismiss the levity of what happened, or the terrible decision making that transpired, but it highlights how quickly stature can be dealt a blow. Sometime, and likely years later, that’s when I began to see it and turned towards emotions of respect for the man known by a single name. Attacking life with the same tenacity and mentality that he did on the basketball court, no one was going to outwork him. Bryant rebuilt his public image, but only after doing so in his own backyard. His marriage made it through that horrendous occurrence, and then again in 2011 when Vanessa filed for divorce. I can’t pretend to know the intimate details of their family, but my assumption would be that coming out on the other side in 2013 and establishing a family unit with ties that look deep, wrongs had been righted. We will never know what it’s like to win multiple NBA titles or score all those points. However, there isn’t a human alive that can’t associate with bad decisions, hurt, and forgiveness. That’s the story of Kobe Bryant that rocks me to my core. He was a man that, by his own doing, went through it all and came out for the better. Fortunately for so many of us simply labeled fans or onlookers, we got to see that better. From Vanessa blowing Kobe a kiss in that final 60-point performance (to which he gave her a quick smile and wink), or the way the Lakers great lit up when talking about any of his daughters. It was apparent that Gianna was the apple of his eye, and regardless of her determination to carry on the family legacy in the gym, it was her mentality that Kobe shined brightest in. Tragedies by nature will never be easy, but it’s hard not to look at this one and see people taken away that were destined to have a profound impact on the world. Kobe looked poised and positioned to have a greater impact in the next 40 years than he did in the first, and he had both the platform and resources to accomplish that feat. Gianna may have been the next trailblazer, WNBA superstar, and advocate for all things the matured Mamba had instilled in her. We’ll never know what could have been, but I finally lost it when ESPN’s Elle Duncan gave us some of the most-raw emotion we’ll ever see on TV. Kobe didn’t need boys, and he didn’t need basketball. He had a mindsight that would allow him to push, drive, and accomplish anything in this world. His family was better for it, his girls were better for it, and most importantly he was better for it. Kobe Bryant wasn’t an idol to me. He wasn’t someone I cared about on the Lakers. He wasn’t even someone I planned to tune into their Hall of Fame speech. Kobe Bryant was a flawed human being with exceptional traits and a desire to rise above, grow, and be better. That’s a father and man I can absolutely choose to emulate. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz