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Baseball in the time of cholera

By Jay Stone

DUNEDIN, Fla. — The senior citizen finds himself in Florida in the middle of a worldwide epidemic because it was a trip arranged before the epidemic started and by the time everyone was getting sick and locked down, it was too late to turn around the Good Ship Golden Age, a vessel that steams ahead long past the time that its route is still useful or even sensible. In the spirit of feisty old guys still wearing wide ties and pants with pleats, we dedicate ourselves firmly to old decisions made when we imagined we must have known what we were doing.

In any event, here we are, and a fine place it is too. The Toronto Blue Jays spring training season is on, attracting lots of Canadians and a few American visitors who are generally baffled by the hoopla. I was telling a visitor from Wisconsin — a young woman who was here with friends but not sure why — that this was an expensive place for Canadians because we only got 75 cents for our dollar, and she asked, “How do they know you’re Canadian?”

I met her at the bus stop for the Jolley (sic) Trolley, a wooden vehicle designed to look like an old-fashioned streetcar. It goes up and down the coast between Clearwater[1] — where young people in skimpy bathing suits drink beer and carry on — and Tarpon Springs, about 10 miles north, a town with a big Greek community and known for its sponge-fishing dock. The dock is filled with Greek restaurants, souvenir shops and sponge stuff, but if you get off one stop earlier, in historic old Tarpon Springs, there are lots of interesting antique stores and cool little cafes on the edge of the Pinellas trail, a converted rail bed that now carries pedestrians and bicyclists up and down the coast. On the main street there’s something called a “museum” that has a lot of pinball machines and you can play all day for $14, which includes in and out privileges, and if I was staying in Tarpon Springs, I’d spend my whole vacation there.

For seniors, the Jolley Trolley costs just $1.10 one-way, which is my chief Boomer Travelling Tip. The only problem is that it runs once an hour and the schedule is kind of casual, so you can find yourself waiting for a while at a bus stop on the side of Alt. 19 — a highway featuring all manner of shops selling automobile tires, tattoos and legal services — trying to talk yourself into the attitude that it’s okay because, as a retired gentleman, you don’t have anywhere to go anyway. On the other hand, at a certain age, every minute of one’s dwindling time on Earth takes on a new urgency. I tried to explain this to my friend Charley, and he summed it up as, “Waiting for the Jolley Trolley or the Grim Reaper.”

One is mostly cut off from the news here — you wouldn’t know the world is ending — but if you accidentally turn on the TV you find that not only are we all in medical danger, but the stock market is plunging precipitously. Fortunately, if you’re already receiving your RRIF, you will continue to get exactly the same amount of monthly income, just for a shorter period of time. So you don’t have to adjust your standard of living, you simply have to amend your life expectancy. Or as my father used to say, “I have too much week left at the end of my money.”

Happily, it’s possible to dedicate yourself entirely to the sports pages. The Blue Jays have a promising young team, as long as the pitching holds up. They’ve renovated the old stadium, wonderfully named Florida Auto Exchange Park, and it’s now called TD Ballpark and has a lot more spiffy new seats with cup holders, a bar in left field where you can sit at tables and drink, a bar in right field where you can sit at tables and drink, and a walkway around the entire outfield equipped with shelves where you can put your drink. There are also a whole lot more bathrooms.

You can buy a standing room ticket for $15, but a premium box for a “premium” game (the Yankees, the Red Sox, or the crosstown rival Philadelphia Phillies) goes for $50, and if you have a lot of $10.50 beer, it can turn into real money. The vulnerable senior living on a fixed income learns to bring his own (empty) water bottle and fill it at one of the conveniently located water stations. There’s also a place that squirts out complimentary sunscreen.

The ups and down of the team (Will Grichuk start hitting earlier than usual? Is Shoemaker’s rehabilitation as good as it appears to be? Will Vlad ever play?) take one’s mind off the other global problems, which are hardly mentioned by anyone. However, as a public service, I’ve put together some rules for coping with Coronavirus during spring training:

1. Don’t touch your face unless you’re putting on the hit and run.

2. If the pitcher goes to his mouth, the hitter shall be permitted to coat his bat with Purell.

Those are the only ones I’ve come up with so far, but there’s still a few games to go. So far the Jays got shellacked by the Pirates 19-13 (a couple of extra points were missed) and shut out the hapless Phillies 9-0. There have been a lot of home runs, but there’s been a vicious wind blowing out to right field, so you can’t be too optimistic. We see the Orioles Wednesday and we come home Saturday, unless something awful happens. Like Shoemaker getting hurt again.

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