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Tom Rysinski: Loss of sports leaves hole that’s hard to fill

This is not a column about the coronavirus.

Sort of.

Last week, before bars and restaurants all over the country were being shut down, before all of the schools were closed, before the governor requested all “non-essential” businesses in the state to close their doors, the biggest impact of the COVID-19 situation in this country was the disappearance of sports.

I could deal with the NBA and NHL going away. I really don’t watch much of either before the playoffs. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament being canceled hurt a lot more, and not just because my school was going to be in the damn thing for the first time since two years after I graduated.

Knowing Major League Baseball was pushing back the start of the season was a bit depressing, but again, nothing I can’t live without. I love baseball, but it’s often background noise, allowing me to follow a game while doing other things. I’m not normally glued to the TV for it, unless maybe I flip on a game in the late innings and somebody is kicking the living crap out of the Yankees or Dodgers.

That I’ll watch.

But losing all of those things, to me, was nothing more than having a TV show you like canceled. Not even that bad, because sports will, sooner or later, be back. As often as I watch sports on TV, I can’t tell you I feel deprived without it.

Of course, not having sports on TV means I had to find other things to watch. Now I’m just as likely to watch “The Dead Files” or “Nazi Fugitives” as I am a basketball game, but at least you knew if you flipped on certain channels, that familiar noise of a basketball game would be waiting for you. But not any more.

Did you know there were so many channels? Click. Somebody is knitting. Knitting? Click. Somebody is trying to sell me a sweater made in Ireland. Click. An “Alice” rerun. I watch that for a while, not surprised that another one follows it. I’m stunned that I knew almost all the words to the theme song. “Funniest thing, the saddest part, is I never knew why.” What is wrong with me?

Click. Click. Click. There are at least five channels of people selling things — under the current circumstances, perhaps a Smith’s Channel is coming; only older folks can call in before 10 a.m. — and at least three channels showing reruns of old shows. Thankfully, sooner or later “Bizarre Foods America” will be on.

In this world of “entertainment,” sports for many of us fills an important niche. But it’s not that hard to live without. (It should be noted that I’m not writing this during football season.) But take live sports away from someone who spends a lot of time watching them, and that’s a very different ballgame, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Nets vs. Lakers, for all but a few thousand of us, is a TV show. Pahrump Valley vs. Moapa Valley, on the other hand, is real life. Coaches you know well, players you’re getting to know, playing in a very familiar place. Take that away, and the hole is much bigger than not seeing a game on ESPN2.

Most of the actual thrills I had in covering sports came in college, and the biggest was sitting front row center for Joe Paterno’s postgame press conference. You have to understand this was decades before anyone knew he cared more about the image of his program than the fact his longtime assistant was raping young boys in the showers, and more than a decade after he apparently knew about it.

Back then, Paterno was all that was right about college football. He didn’t recruit felons — not then — and he donated big bucks to the school library because, in the words of one witty scribe, he wanted a university the football team could be proud of. Heck, his wife even gave reading lists to incoming freshman players. I guarantee you that didn’t happen in the SEC.

Oh, yeah, and the score that day was Rutgers 21, Penn State 16. I would be lying if I said that result didn’t have a little something to do with making the occasion special, but whatever the score, I was 4 feet in front of a legend, the closest credentialed media member to those 8-inch thick glasses.

It was cool because I was there, but seeing a postgame press conference on television is boring. It’s almost as bad as those brief “interviews” you see coaches give on their way toward the locker room at halftime. It’s just part of the TV show. But when you’re there, it’s different.

Now I am not going to compare talking to Brian Hayes, Cassondra Lauver or Leo Verzilli after a game to sitting in front of Joe Paterno. And I’m not saying I’d rather watch Ally Rily or Jake Riding pitch, watch Skyler Lauver or Jalen Denton hit, or talk to Jose Granados after a race than sit at center ice at the Prudential Center during the conference finals.

But for most of us, the pro games are TV shows. They go off, and another one comes on. You take away a high school baseball game, softball game or track meet, and another one doesn’t come on after it. It’s done. They’re done.

I’ve said it many times: Watching high school kids play sports in Pahrump, Nevada, was not on my bucket list. A lot of things I’ve seen and done over the past two years were not on my bucket list. But that doesn’t mean losing them, even temporarily, doesn’t bother me.

There’s a big hole in the lives of a lot of kids around Pahrump right now, and around Nevada, and around the country. There’s one in mine, too.

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