VALPARAISO, Ind. — March turned into April, and now May is turning into June. It's not the time of year when baseball players are used to sitting by idly, wondering what happens next. They are used to playing games, day after day after day.
Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the national pastime on every level and in every corner, county and community in all the land. From major-league ball players to Little Leaguers and everyone in between, no one is playing baseball right now.
And, worst off, they have no idea when that next first inning is going to be.
Craig Dedelow, the Munster, Ind., native who walked on at Indiana and then had a great four-year college career from 2014 through 2017, is now a promising minor-leaguer in the farm system of the Chicago White Sox. He, too, is caught up in this conundrum. He's at home in northwest Indiana, trying to stay in shape and waiting for the phone to ring so he can get back to work.
"It's just so weird because I've never been home in April and May, not since high school, and even then I still got to play baseball every day,'' said Dedelow, who lives in Valparaiso now. "This is all so completely different, and the hardest part is you really have no idea when we're going to get back to work. Right now, it's like no one really has any idea what might happen. That's the hardest part, because you can't really stay at peak performance, no matter how hard you're trying.''
Dedelow was a career .289 hitter at Indiana and had a huge senior year, hitting 19 home runs and raising his draft stock immensely. The Chicago White Sox took him in the ninth round of the 2017 MLB Draft and he's been a productive farm hard for them so far, making All-Star teams as an outfielder at every level. The left-hander hit 18 home runs a year ago at high Class A Winston-Salem. He was really looking forward to a big 2020 season.
And then ...
Just a few weeks from the end of spring training in mid-March, Dedelow was in Arizona and excited about the upcoming season. After getting over a back injury from overdoing it in the weight room at the start of camp, he was 100 percent and ready to roll.
But when everyone got sent home, Dedelow didn't really have a good plan for staying in top baseball shape. He had to wing it.
"It was tough from a workout standpoint because I really didn't know what to do to stay in shape on my own here,'' Dedelow said. "I was doing yoga off of YouTube videos, but there really wasn't much I could do baseball-wise. It's not really a game you can practice by yourself.
"There is one guy, I went and hit at his facility, and we just did that one person at a time. There are a few other baseball guys around here too, and it was always like when you were a kid, just looking for someone to throw the ball around with. I'd call somebody up and say, ''do you want to play catch?''
Baseball. It still is — and will always be — a kid's game.
Chasing that baseball dream
The path to the major leagues is never easy, even though hundreds of thousands of youngsters dream the dream every year. Dedelow is no different in chasing that dream. Thanks to that big senior year at Indiana, he was a high draft pick, but that didn't really mean much financially. Because he was a senior with no other options, his signing bonus was only $10,000.
He's doing what he loves, of course, and he's still climbing that ladder to the big leagues. But make no mistake, playing minor-league baseball isn't the least bit rewarding financially. it's all about that carrot at the end.
"Money is always an issue when you're a minor-league player,'' said Dedelow, who only makes $400 a week during the season. "People think, 'oh, you're a professional baseball player' and 'oh, you got drafted in the ninth-round' and they all think you have a lot of money. That is so not true.
"Don't get me wrong. I love what I'm doing and I've been happy with my progress. I'm just like anybody, I guess, where I wish I had some better numbers. I was looking forward to getting to Double-A (Birmingham) this year and then taking it from there. The White Sox farm system is pretty outfield-heavy right now, but they like me, My coach the past two seasons — Justin Jirschele — is moving up to Birmingham too, and he and I talk a lot. He's been a big help to me.''
Major League Baseball and its players are still haggling over money and how to resume the 2020 big-league season, with no end in sight to the squabbling. Nothing can happen with any minor-league decisions until that's worked out. Some teams, like the Oakland A's, are going to stop paying their minor leaguers entirely. The White Sox aren't doing that, but they did just release 26 players to save money.
"When I saw what the A's did, that was tough to see. The White Sox released 26 players too, and I saw that and thought, 'wow.' '' Dedelow said. "I know a lot of those guys. It gets a little scary, that's for sure. We've been getting our $400 week, which isn't a lot, for sure, but it sure means a lot to me. Not having it would certainly hurt.''
Not knowing is the hardest part
While Dedelow sits and waits, so does everyone else. The professional season never started. The college seasons lasted about three weeks before it was canceled and a lot of college players still have no idea what their summer options are going to look like, either.
High school seasons got canceled across the country, and there's a big fear that summer baseball for kids of all ages won't take place either. For instance, the popular Little League World Series in August has already been canceled.
Dedelow — who started something of a recent Munster-to-Bloomington pipeline that's been followed by Connor Manous, Garrett Manous and incoming IU recruit Costa Sirounis — said his White Sox coaches have been good about keeping in touch through phone calls and Zoom chats, but they don't have any answers, either. Everything — and for everyone — is still up in the air.
"What's going to happen? Is it July 4th? Will there be spring training for two or three weeks? Will there even be minor-league seasons? No one really has any idea,'' Dedelow said. "Our coaches, they don't know either, and as soon as they do, then they'll tell us.
"Until then, I just try to find a way to stay sharp. It's not easy.''
Fearing for his baseball future
The worst part about all this is that Dedelow is chasing the clock in the race to the major leagues. He's already 25 — he'll turn 26 in November — and every year matters when you're trying to be one of those 25 players on a major-league roster. The White Sox, who have been in rebuilding mode the past few years and have fully stocked their farm with talented young players, like Dedelow's skills, but he's got a lot of competition.
So if worse comes to worse and there is no baseball this year, it would be devastating for him.
"I'm really trying to stay positive through all this, so I don't even want to think about there not being a season,'' he said, his voice going soft and trailing off. "They're having a hard time getting the major-league season going and they all have billions of dollars, so what's that say about the what might happen with the minor-league seasons?
"It's hard to think about losing a whole year because the clock really is ticking, you know. I'm 25 years old now and I've been moving up through the system, which is great, but if you lose a year, you never get that back. For some people, you never get that career back. I don't even want to go there.''
Dedelow still believes in that childhood dream. He still believes he'll play in the big leagues. That's why he keeps plowing along, basically making a couple of dollars an hour for all his hard work.
The dream, it's that's strong.
"It's really hard some days to avoid that dark thinking. I'm trying to stay away from that,'' he said. "I mean, I'm getting older and — think about it — I have a $6,000 annual salary right now.
I'm really lucky that my parents help. They know how bad I want this, and how it's been my dream forever to play major-league baseball. It's their dream too, their dream for me, and they tell me all the time that you only get one shot at this and we're all going to give it all we have. And so we will.''