In the pre-coronavirus world, the sights and sounds of iconic sporting events marked the warm weather months as surely as the Memorial Day or Fourth of July holidays. The beautiful greenery of the Masters. Wide-brimmed hats, psychedelic sport coats and bracing mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby. The gathering of hopeful throngs outside Wrigley Field, or the deafening roar of 700-horsepower engines at the Indianapolis 500 all gave shape to the lives of sports fans everywhere.
For now, all of those things are gone as the pandemic has upset the sports calendar, leading to a flurry of cancellations and postponements. There will be no College World Series this year for the first time since its inception in 1947. The Wimbledon Championships have been canceled for the first time since World War II. This year there will be no Baseball Hall of Fame induction at Cooperstown, no Little League World Series in Williamsport, and no Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.
The Masters has been pushed back to November, long after the azaleas have been out of bloom in Augusta. Baseball hopes to get on the field by July 4, but the plan is for the boys of summer to begin play in empty stadiums. What could be a spectator-less Indy 500 is set for August, and the Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled for Labor Day weekend. But there might or might not be a hat parade, because fans might or might not be allowed at Churchill Downs.
All of that is an immeasurable loss to sports fans. But to the people whose work helps define these events, or whose rituals included attending them, the loss runs deeper. — MICHAEL A. FLETCHER
MLB Games Harry Sdralis Owner of Wrigleyville Dogs, a 30-year-old, family-owned restaurant
Wrigley Field sits empty. The surrounding neighborhood is quiet. Business for many in the area is suffering and down dramatically.
Despite their business being down almost 80% and not making enough income right now to take home a salary, Harry and Pete Sdralis are keeping Wrigleyville Dogs open during the coronavirus pandemic.
Their goal? To keep their beloved small staff working -- and earning.
"These [employees] are an offshoot of our family, so we can't do that to our family," Harry says about his workers, some of whom have been around almost as long as the business has been grilling dogs. "You're talking about what? Six, seven families that would have zero income coming in. Now, how do you, what do you tell them?"
For now, Harry tells them to keep showing up for work and does his best to inspire his troops.
"Let's try and survive the situation," he says. "And hopefully in the next few months, things get better. How's that?" — ARTY BERKO
The MastersMelissa MundyCo-owner of Katerwerks, events & hospitality for four years
For Melissa Mundy, the Masters truly is "a tradition unlike any other." Her father volunteers at the tournament; extended family comes to Augusta, Georgia; and, since 2016, Masters patrons have helped generate a significant part of her business as the co-owner of Katerwerks, a catering company. But because of COVID-19, the April tradition moves to November this year.
"It was strange to be around here that week, because it's the first time in my lifetime [the Masters] hasn't happened," she says "It's such a big part of our business and such a big tradition."
The Masters week accounts for up to 25% of Katerwerks' annual revenue. Though Mundy hopes to regain that lost income in November, it's still a blow to the business.
"We're all very proud to host visitors that come in from all over the country and all over the world. We really missed being able to do that in April," Mundy says. — TONYA MALINOWSKI
Kentucky DerbyBullitt Co. Youth FootballAt least 10 years of concession stand fundraising at the Derby
The familiar scenes of youth football fundraisers around town -- car washes, candy bars, coupon books -- are a little bit different for the program in Bullitt County, Kentucky. There, the 12 football teams and approximately 1,000 participating families do -- in a single day -- the vast majority of their fundraising by serving food and drinks at the Kentucky Derby.
The program relies on the nearly $40,000 raised at the event to buy and condition safety equipment as well as fund participation for families who can't afford the annual dues. If fans are not in attendance when the postponed Derby takes place on Sept. 5, alternate fundraising would not match the league's lost revenue from that day.
"Everyone's very anxious. They want to know, 'Are we going to have a season?'" says Amanda Serafin, president of the Greater Bullitt County Youth Football League. "When you're looking at selling candy bars and things like that, there's nothing that will ever make up for what that Derby brings in." — TONYA MALINOWSKI
Indianapolis 500Cathi NunnCathi’s Race Parking, 20 years of spaces in her yard
Every Memorial Day weekend, race cars roar around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at more than 200 mph. In the surrounding neighborhood, the cars move much slower, all seeking a place to park. Some find a place for $20 in one of the 24 spots in Cathi Nunn's yard.
Nunn has lived at 21 Fisher Avenue for 20 years, but Indy has always been part of her 80-year life. As a little girl, she would sneak her bike over the fence to pedal around the track. As a career bartender and waitress, she befriended many Indy 500 legends.
Cathi's Race Parking has regular customers, making race weekends feel like family reunions. But this will be the first Indy 500 to miss May for reasons other than a world war. Cathi's parkers have assured her they will return in August if spectators are allowed.
"It's gonna be quite different in August," she confesses. "But now it's being held the day before my birthday, so that won't be so bad." — RYAN McGEE
Women’s College World SeriesBobby and Christina WalkerSoftball fans, WCWS visitors for 12 years
Bobby and Christina Walker's family tradition started -- unknowingly at the time -- with a graduation-present request from their daughter, Kalika, for tickets to the 2008 Women's College World Series.
"People who know us know that we leave to go to Oklahoma City the Wednesday after Memorial Day," Bobby said.
But the NCAA's cancellation of the 2020 WCWS because of the coronavirus pandemic means a change to their familiar early summer patterns.
There will be no five-hour drive from their home in Wakarusa, Kansas, to OKC this year. The return to the same Fairfield Inn will have to wait. So will the tailgating with friends and other fans in the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium parking lot.
"I'm just kind of lost," Bobby said.
However, the couple is optimistic about sitting in their usual four seats near the top of the stadium along the right-field line.
"We sure hope to see you next year, 2021, in Oklahoma City," Christina said. — MAYA JONES
College World SeriesDennis PateExecutive director of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo for 11 years
Each June, college baseball fans converge in Omaha, Nebraska, to hear the ping of the aluminum bat at the College World Series. For many fans, the CWS trip is not complete until they also hear the roars and howls of the animals at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
But Omaha will sound different this June because of COVID-19. The NCAA canceled the CWS on March 12. The zoo shut down on March 16 but plans to open again on June 1.
The zoo has suffered a tremendous financial loss since closing, but losing the ticket revenue tied to the CWS will be a particularly difficult blow, zoo executive director Dennis Pate says.
"There's a cycle to summer, and it starts with the College World Series. So we don't have that benchmark," Pate says. "We're going to miss seeing the teams. We're going miss the very lively atmosphere. It's just going to be really, really different." — PAULA LAVIGNE
WimbledonMarion ReganOwner of Hugh Lowe Farms, tournament strawberry supplier for 25-plus years
Strawberries -- and their customary accompaniment of cream -- are as identified with Wimbledon as its grass courts and the players' all-white attire.
The strawberries are handpicked from sunrise at Marion Regan's Hugh Lowe Farms and brought 30 miles to the All England Club to be served and eaten the same day -- and only the same day.
After the planting for Wimbledon 2020 was completed, the tournament was canceled April 1.
"Like all businesses," Regan told ESPN, "we are all having to adjust to difficult and uncertain times, but we must pull together to beat the virus and protect each other."
For the two summer weeks devoid of the Championships, Regan said the farm will sell as many of the strawberries grown especially for Wimbledon as it can, and donate the rest to charity.
"Mainly, we will be hoping that many people will still want to mark the fortnight with a bowl of strawberries, maybe with their family, watching reruns of classic Wimbledon matches." — WILLIAM WEINBAUM
MLB Hall of Fame Induction WeekendTim HaneyOwner of Cooperstown Bat Company for 12 years
Tim Haney thought this summer would be like few others in Cooperstown, New York. He envisioned unusually huge crowds descending on the picturesque village to drink in baseball nostalgia and witness the Hall of Fame induction of New York Yankees great Derek Jeter.
In preparation for 2020, his Cooperstown Bat Company increased its store inventory by 30% and produced a Yankees-blue model honoring Jeter.
But Haney's hopes for a prosperous summer have been dashed by the coronavirus pandemic. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum closed to visitors in March, youth tournaments have been canceled and the crushing blow came in April when the Hall pushed its July 26 induction ceremony to 2021.
Now, instead of enjoying a banner year, Cooperstown Bat is just squeezing by. Still, Haney remains hopeful.
"I'm always optimistic," he said. "We're hard-working and try to plan ways to get through this. We'll make it." — MICHAEL A. FLETCHER
World SeriesPete and Josh LupacchinoThe family's been hosts at the event since 1958
Every year, Pete and Josh Lupacchino become proud uncles, but not in a traditional sense. The father and son serve as team hosts during the Little League World Series, making sure that participating players have everything they need during their two-week stay in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
"It's our due diligence and our job just to make that experience something they'll never, ever forget," Josh says.
In the Lupacchino family, being an uncle is a tradition. Peter A. Lupacchino, Pete's father, volunteered with the program for 45 years.
But this year is different. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it's the first time in the series' 73-year history that the event won't welcome players from different teams around the globe.
"It'll just be surreal for those two weeks in August not to have anything to do," Pete says.
Yet, the Lupacchinos are eagerly awaiting next year to become proud uncles once again.
"I'm sure Little League will come back very strong in 2021," Pete says. — MAYA JONES