Cubs, White Sox play a baseball game and the world around them gets a tiny bit brighteron July 20, 2020 at 2:21 am

Cubs up and down one base line. White Sox up and down the other.

The national anthem playing.

The American flag, high above the center-field scoreboard and projected onto the giant video board in left, flapping in a gentle summer breeze.

Our country has been through hell lately.

Our city has, too.

Maybe sports can bring a tiny piece of it all back.

The Cubs and Sox played a game of baseball Sunday night at Wrigley Field. It was only an exhibition. There were no fans in the seats, which — perhaps you’ve heard? — will be the norm as major league teams begin a season unlike any other later this week.

It was a game less important, strictly speaking, than any of the 122 the teams had played against each other on the North Side or the South Side since interleague play began in 1997.

But maybe, just maybe, it was the biggest one of them all.

A good thing, baseball during a pandemic that’s still very much in charge? Will this season work? Is it doomed before it even starts?

We’ll see. We can guess at it, consider evidence presented by scientists and public-health experts and then project our own optimism or skepticism, but — as trite as it may sound — we’ll just see.

But Sunday was sports’ return to a city that hasn’t had a strong sniff of it since the Blackhawks beat the Sharks 6-2 at the United Center on March 11. That same night, NBA player Rudy Gobert went to a hospital and, well, you know the rest.

There have been hints of sports in the air in Chicagoland since. The independent Chicago Dogs are playing in Rosemont. High school camps — including the ones after which 36 Lake Zurich High School students tested positive for COVID-19 — have been held. Men are playing soccer in parks, girls are playing softball on diamonds, people are taking risks to work out in gyms.

A Cubs-Sox game, that’s different. With the stands empty, it surely looked different. With silly crowd noise manufactured for telecasts, it surely sounded different. But it passed the smell test. It smelled like a comeback.

Baseball’s comeback. Sports’ comeback.

“It feels real,” Cubs manager David Ross said.

On his walk to the ballpark, Ross got an earful from fans in the neighborhood.

“Go get ’em!” they yelled.

Left fielder Kyle Schwarber, while walking his dog, heard it, too.

“Can’t wait for Friday!” said one fan, Opening Day nearly here.

But Schwarber’s mind was on the night’s exhibition game and all it — and others like it around the league — represented. Meaningless? Hardly.

“I think it’s going to mean a lot to the city and, obviously, [the] country,” Schwarber said. “It’s going to be a good, positive thing that’s going on, to sit down and watch a baseball game for three or four hours and be able to cheer on your team.

“There hasn’t been much sporting events going on in general. I think golf and UFC have been kind of the only things. To bring back America’s pastime to America, I think is going to be great.”

Not four weeks ago, MLB and the players’ union finally reached a deal on a 60-game season after negotiations that were so poorly handled, so tone-deaf to real people’s struggles, it was easy to look at it and think: Just bag it.

But players reported to camps, and here we are.

“This season, despite the fact that we’re starting so late, it’s really creeping up on us here,” Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito said. “Summer camp feels like it just blew by, and now we’re ready to go.”

New Cub Jason Kipnis hit a home run Sunday. The Sox’ Adam Engel hit a monstrous one himself. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras beat out a slow roller and eventually — after tagging from second base on a fly to left — scored on a sacrifice fly. New Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal pulled a two-run double into the gap in right.

Players played baseball. Not bad.

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