I never thought I could live in a world without sports.

It’s been a part of my daily activities since before I could walk. I have been told stories of a basket hanging on one end of my crib and draining jumpers with a Nerf ball from the other when I was less than a year old.

The basket would ring a bell, much to the chagrin of my mother as the noise would permeate the house for hours. It did indicate when I awoke, and if the ball wasn’t in arm’s reach, I would be visibly upset.

My late father was a baseball star from a young age and I developed his love of sports that will last the rest of my life. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the back porch listening to the legendary Marty Brennaman call a Cincinnati Reds game with my dad and grandfather. Baseball holds a special place in my heart, even though I played basketball in high school and it’s my favorite sport to this day.

My schedule would always revolve around a sporting event. I was there for others that I cared about, but every second of free time that I could obtain would involve a ball game.

But we now live in a different time. Cable has become nonexistent at my place. I occasionally watch a show on the ESPN app, and I’ve found out one thing: It’s no longer a necessity for me (for now).

We can all live without sports for a few months because right now, people are actually fighting to live. We all must fight the urge to rush back to our normal lives and accept this temporary reality that we are experiencing. Sports can wait. The fight an athlete faces to earn a victory is miniscule compared to the battle people have to financially survive or what the brave healthcare workers face every day or the struggle for some of us just to exist.

Every sports fan misses the crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, the round-trippers and the double plays, and some miss spending time with teammates. Baseball will return. So will every other sport. We can all endure a few quarters of a sports drought so this crisis won’t go into overtime.

Sports have always provided a much-needed distraction for me and I’m sure for a lot of you as well, but with the death toll in the United States rising to 60,000 this week, we must remain vigilant and focused. That total is more than twice the number of the next country on the list, Italy.

The new normal in the sporting world will be something we need to accept for a while and should allow the professional organizations to reevaluate game plans going forward. The almighty dollar will always be the driving force and that will never change.

The NFL Draft went off without a hitch last week. On the biggest night of these players’ lives, none of them seemed to care about the atmosphere, the huge crowd or the chance to walk across the stage and get a bear hug from the commissioner. It didn’t have the glitz and the glamour of the Las Vegas strip. Who needs all the pomp and circumstance?

Baseball and hockey do not turn their drafts into a big show. We have the technology where this could be the new normal, but a grand stage makes the sport money that it needs as player contracts seem to get more and more extravagant.

Today — the first Saturday in May — is always reserved for one of the biggest spectacles in sports, especially for the Bluegrass. The Kentucky Derby welcomes over 100,000 people. The race was scratched and postponed until Labor Day weekend for only the second time in its 145-year history and the first since World War II. It’s called the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports,” more than enough time for thousands of people to contract the virus.

The race could have been run with precautions in place without fans. You can bet on any sport all over the world with the touch of a button with a mint julep in the other.

Tradition should always honored and respected, but this is a matter of life and death.

Our young student-athletes have been greatly affected during this crisis. The kids couldn’t chase their championship dreams. A perfect ride came to a screeching halt and all the joy that March Madness can bring was gone.

All the hard work that competitors put in all year for the chance to perform on the diamond, track and tennis court this spring was thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic. No one wants that same misfortune to happen again, so we must remain diligent now with scientists and health officials forecasting another wave of the virus in the fall and winter months.

The perseverance of the players has not gone unnoticed here at The Daily Independent. Stay tuned for an upcoming project in the coming weeks.

Until then, stay healthy. Stay safe.

It’s time that we all answer the bell.

Reach MATTHEW SPARKS at msparks@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654. Follow @SparksWillFly35 on Twitter.

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