FIRST TAKE

Stephen A. Smith discusses which sports can be played without fans

Friday on First Take, Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman discuss which sports are the safest to be played without fans in attendance. Stephen A. mentions baseball as being one of the sports that can be played, so let's hope he's right.

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Let me start by noting that this column is confined to a sports context. Sports are a huge thread in our societal fiber and massive economically, but not literally life or death the way the coronavirus pandemic is for way too many. So, with that perspective established...

Man this is the worst ever start to spring. The vernal equinox hit at 10:49 PM CDT Thursday night. Never have we had less in sports with which to herald its arrival. No NCAA Tournament to revel in for the rest of the month. No Opening Day in Major League Baseball just around the corner. No Masters at Augusta approaching. No Kentucky Derby in May. No Stanley Cup or NBA Finals in June. Basically, no anything.

Our essentially sports-less existence won't last forever. But it may feel like it. From time to time l talk about a player or team with fortunate circumstances or challenging circumstances, as needing to play the course. Whatever sets up favorably, or whatever looms as seemingly insurmountable, play the course. This course stinks! The fairways are burned out, the greens are a bumpy mess, and the rough, man is it rough. Alas, like the coronavirus pandemic itself, this course will get worse before it gets better.

We've all heard if not used the saying "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Best I could find, it dates to 1832 and The Pocket Magazine of Classic and Polite Literature. It's not always true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Sometimes out of sight out of mind supersedes. With sports? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning might put it: sports, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I miss you baby.

O'Brien makes news

Thank goodness for Blundering Bill O'Brien. Emperor O's absurd trade of DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for 50 cents on the dollar gave us something to work with this week, along with NFL free agency. I do not recall a trade made with opinion more universally held that one side got fleeced. The Texans make history! The evidence mounts that O'Brien is simply overmatched and has too much authority for us to believe he will ever helm the Texans to greatness.

O'Brien is the rightful villain on this to Texans fans, but Hopkins is no hero. If Hopkins was agitating for another contract re-do, O'Brien should have told him "That's not happening two seasons into a five year 81 million dollar deal. See you at mandatory reporting date or face the consequences." Instead Emperor O nets a lame return in a deal that makes the Jadeveon Clowney trade to the Seahawks look decent.

Reminder: Over the six seasons of O'Brien's Texans tenure, three AFC South franchises have reached an AFC Championship Game. Then there are the Texans.

An Astros positive

The Astros catch one silver lining amidst the coronavirus mess. With there being no way the baseball season will start before mid-May at the absurdly optimistically earliest, Justin Verlander gets ample time to recover from his injuries. First he was shut down by a lat problem connecting to his pitching arm, then this week Verlander had surgery to repair an injured groin. The stated six weeks recovery time would have Verlander available come mid-May.

On the other hand, the Astros chance at mounting a run at becoming the first team ever to win 100 games in four consecutive seasons, basically eliminated. Though maybe it's worth noting that in 1995 when the first inning of the season (one-ninth, 18 of 162 games) was lost to the players' strike, the Indians still wound up winning 100, finishing 100-44. Hard to see the Astros having that in them. Career milestones with lowered likelihoods of being reached if 2020 turns out to be, say, a 100 game regular season: 300 wins for Verlander and 3000 hits for Jose Altuve.

Relatively speaking, Red Sox fans might not lament the delay to season start. First they trade away superstar Mookie Betts, and now pitching ace Chris Sale is gone until some time in 2021 thanks to Tommy John surgery. Sale is just beginning a five year 145 million dollar contract extension that at point of signing looked shaky, and now looks like possibly one of the worst deals in MLB history. For the team that is. It's downright phenomenal for Sale. Of course, New England may barely notice while lost in "Tom Brady is gone?!?" hysteria.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Brady fell over the hill last season but should still be a vast upgrade over Jameis Winston for the Buccaneers. 2. If you have the wherewithal, you'd be doing a good thing in ordering takeout or delivery at least once this weekend in support of restaurants being flat out crushed by all this. 3. Best Houston desserts to go: Bronze-Truluck's carrot cake Silver-Bellagreen's white chocolate bread pudding Gold-Goode Company's pecan pie