Michael Connelly's latest novel on crime solving is titled "The Law of Innocence" and it features Mickey Haller, better known as the Lincoln Lawyer. There are references later in the book that has a virus started in China and appearing elsewhere.

As Haller is trying to prove his innocence on a murder charge, there are other references to this virus — a wonderfully subtle reminder to our naiveté in early 2020 toward this menace to the planet.

Spring training was proceeding in normal fashion when I left Fort Myers on March 5. A few days later, we were discussing the virus with slightly more urgency.

On March 11, 12 games were played in the top three classes of the girls' basketball state tournament. Paige Bueckers and Hopkins already had rolled to a morning victory in the Class 4A opener, with Stillwater and Park Center starting Game 2 in The Barn.

Lucy Menssen and Ryann Eddy, a pair of 15-year-old players from Northfield, arrived early to watch Bueckers. Scouting report? "She was great, of course," Eddy said.

Erica Fultz, mother of Stillwater's 6-1 center Mary Fultz, was taking in what would become an 82-52 victory for her favorite team. Asked about the virus, Erica said: "I try not to get all hyped up about it. I think we have to enjoy these opportunities, to watch our kids in sports."

Next door, Amelia Santaniello and her husband, Frank Vascellaro, were watching daughter Francesca play guard with her Holy Angels teammates. They would be heading to WCCO-TV later to co-anchor the 10 p.m. news and Santaniello said: "There is definitely a disconnect between being among fans and being fully involved in a game. … And then, with today a fourth Minnesota case with the virus, you know that's the top story you're going to be detailing to viewers."

That same night, Utah's Rudy Gobert tested positive and the NBA announced it would be shutting down the next day. In Florida, the Orioles were headed from Sarasota to Fort Myers for a night exhibition game and were told to turn around as MLB was deciding to close camps.

The girls' basketball games held on March 12 were a last flicker of resolve to play, before we were catapulted into our year of atrocious boredom at best, and of myocarditis, ventilators and death at COVID-19's vicious worst.

Anyone around during World War II can recall a more unsettling existence in America. And following Sept. 11, 2001, I recall Tom Kelly, a New Jersey guy, recently retired as Twins manager, saying a few months later:

"All of us are distressed by what happened, but my friends in the East … they are hurting out there. They have pain that's not going away."

One year later, we have either pined for normal, or suffered with loss, or both.

Paul Molitor, Hall of Fame baseball player, former Twins manager, had a battle with COVID-19 late last fall that he's reluctant to talk much about for a vintage Molitor reason: "There have been so many people that went through way more than me. … I consider myself to be a fortunate one."

Molitor, 64, tested positive in November, started feeling poorly, was running a fever, but he stayed hunkered down.

"You want to tough it out, right?" he said. "Fortunately, my sister Mary Alice, one of those nurses that is as close as you can get to being a doctor, gave me an Oximeter to test oxygen level and said, 'If it gets below 90, go to the hospital.'"

When Molitor's oxygen fell to 86, he went to the University of Minnesota hospitals. "It seems like people either get better or worse at that point," he said. "I know some people who didn't make it.

"I was put on oxygen, some medication, was there five days, and then I got out. It takes awhile to feel like yourself again, but considering the real picture, it wasn't that much."

Molitor paused a moment and said, "It does give you an appreciation for the challenge this thing presents to us."

A challenge taken on by enough people that, on Friday, exactly a year after we shut down sports and much of life, enough Minnesota restrictions were softened to show a light of normalcy down there at the end of our tunnel.

Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing sports@startribune.com and including his name in the subject line.