Exactly 28 years ago today, Larry Wiederecht experienced one of the happiest moments of his life at the ballpark.
He proposed to his then-girlfriend, Cathy Ryan, at Al Lang Stadium between the fourth and fifth innings of a game between the St. Petersburg Cardinals and Dunedin Blue Jays.
Ryan said, “Yes,” in front of a crowd of 5,406 at the Fourth of July contest.
But it’s memories like these Wiederecht won’t be able to make this year, since the minor-league season was canceled on Tuesday.
Wiederecht, the official scorer for the Clearwater Threshers, will miss his first season in 30 years. Yet, this will be the year he said he will never forget.
He has spent every summer since 1990 at the ballpark. From April until August, he’s preparing for weeklong homestands and usually having to schedule family time around games.
But now, without a season to worry about, he’s able to shop for vinyl records with his 16-year-old daughter, Abby. He can tackle household projects with Cathy, some of which have had a pin in them for three years, he chuckled. He no longer has an excuse not to tackle the treacherous yard work, either.
Still, Wiederecht misses his daily treks to Spectrum Field — which he still refers to as Bright House Field — for Threshers games. He has to correct his muscle memory to make a right- instead of a left-hand turn to go home now.
“It’s a really odd feeling having a summer where I’m not thinking about fitting in a seven-game homestand,” Wiederecht, 56, said. “It’s been something that is on my mind a lot.”
Wiederecht only works part-time for the Threshers. He’s not worried about the income loss as much as he is the connection to baseball, a sport he grew up playing and watching. He said he’s luckier than others in that regard.
A thick, three-ring binder — which sits in a back room inside of his St. Petersburg home — is full of old team photos from every year he’s scored. Wiederecht said a wall in his house wouldn’t be big enough to display them all.
Once a year, he can go through it — usually when he’s adding a new team photo — and point out a good game a specific player had and other tidbits from that particular season because he doesn’t want to forget.
But this year, he’ll have an empty plastic sheet for the 2020 season that never was.
“The fact that there’ll be this void for 2020,” Wiederecht said, “that in and of itself, I guess, will be the memory.”
The baseball season’s a marathon, he said. There’s no other sport quite like it, which is why he started to worry back in mid-March, when the sports world came to a halt at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic.
Wiederecht has been around the league long enough to know that with every day that passed, there was that much less of a chance the season would happen.
“There’s a lot at stake for those spring-training games, especially with baseball,” he said. “Once you turn off the training process, it’s going to take you a while to turn the whole machine back on. Especially for pitchers, because they’re different from everybody else in any other sport.”
Now, as Major League Baseball tries to start up, Wiederecht is wondering how the game will go on if fans can’t line the stands.
Through war and pandemics, sports helped bring people and a sense of normalcy back to the world. He hopes it’s the same again this time around.
“A couple of those years, Major League Baseball’s had interruptions,” he said. “But the notion of the minor leagues has always soldiered on.”
He recalled the 1994 MLB season, when the World Series was canceled due to a players’ strike. In the interim, Minor League Baseball continued and “filled the void of major leaguers not playing at that time.”
Like many others, he’s not sure if the season will get a chance to take off with coronavirus cases growing at the rate they are.
“It’s like watching a young child trying to walk,” Wiederecht said. “They’re pretty sure they can get started, but they can’t even get that first step going because people are testing positive right off the bat.”
If the league is able to host games, Wiederecht wonders what the atmosphere will be without fans. To him, it might have the feel of a spring-training game. And it won’t be the same.
“There’s a reason why those games don’t count,” he said. “A big part of the experience of playing professionally is having fans on your side, fans against you, all those sorts of things. And, you know, fans can be a part of the game in terms of their enthusiasm. This game has always been played in front of fans, even if it’s a couple hundred.”