Quarantined Yankees Prospects Balancing Panic and Ennui

With two of New York's minor leaguers testing positive for COVID-19, the team has sequestered its farm system in Tampa hotels. What's a ballplayer to get excited about with no ball to play? Monopoly, mealtime, and 'Slaughterhouse-Five'
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The big league Yankees have left town. But the Bombers' minor leaguers are quarantined through March 25.

The big league Yankees have left town. But the Bombers' minor leaguers are quarantined through March 25.

They wait there like golden retrievers, eagerly anticipating the sound of the car in the driveway. A few minutes before mealtimes, Garrett Whitlock and his roommate, Aaron McGarity, each stand before one of the windows in the Yankees’ minor league team hotel in Tampa where they are quarantined and watch for any sign of activity. Eventually the caterers arrive and begin setting up. Then they race down to grab their boxed food and enjoy a few precious minutes amid civilization.

It’s the best part of the day, says Whitlock, 23, who pitched for the Double A Trenton Thunder last year.

Ever since Sunday, when a Yankees minor leaguer tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the people who interacted with him have been under quarantine. (A second player reported symptoms to the team on Tuesday; he also tested positive. The team said that the players spent time only in the minor league complex, so major leaguers have been allowed to go home.) The quarantined players face the same dichotomy as much of the country right now: This is scary. But it’s also boring.

By the time this pandemic finishes wreaking havoc on the world’s population, millions of people will have died. It’s frightening and it’s awful. But for those who are not themselves infected, and who are quarantined, how can they fill the days?

There was some initial panic. “You’re interacting with people every day, and it’s not a huge area,” says Reid Anderson, 24, a righty who spent last season with the rookie-level Pulaski Yankees. “I cough and then I ask myself, ‘Do I have a fever?’ I don’t even remember what a fever feels like!”

But as the days pass without symptoms, the players descend into boredom. Six days in, they have developed something of a schedule.

“I try to sleep in to eat away as many hours as possible,” says Ken Waldichuk, 22, a lefty who spent last year with Pulaski. The organization’s Teamworks app alerts the players what time food will be available each day—it fluctuates slightly, a scintillating variation in their days—so he drags himself out of bed at the last possible minute, usually around 9:30 a.m. The players tend to linger near the caterers’ tent: It’s the only time they get to spend in groups larger than three or four.

Eventually they retreat to their living quarters. They are spread across three extended-stay hotels, two people to a room at the higher minor league levels, three or four in a suite at the lower levels. (A few players found their own housing; they pick up their meals at the minor league complex.) Whitlock usually watches the news as he drinks his coffee—Fox News, CNN, MSNBC. He wants every piece of information he can find. Anderson tries to escape: He’s reading Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut’s antiwar novel.

“I haven’t really watched any Netflix yet,” Anderson says. “I’m impressed with myself.”

He is alone there. Whitlock and McGarity screened Coach Carter after breakfast on Wednesday. Ryan Anderson, 21, the Yankees’ 12th-round pick last year, is rewatching Breaking Bad. He also flipped channels the other day and found himself captivated by HGTV’s Property Brothers. “I think I could maybe become a realtor soon,” he says.

They pick up lunch and dinner at the same time, generally between noon and 2 p.m. They cherish another few minutes in the world, then head back inside. Nearly every room has a video game console, so the players are honing their ­MLB the Show, Madden and Call of Duty skills. The gaming doubles as a good way to stay connected with friends: Many people are working from home these days.

The strength and conditioning staff sends them a daily bodyweight workout, which kills anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. In rookie-ball pitcher Kevin Milam’s room, they play a game with a deck of cards: Pick an exercise, then draw a card and complete that number of reps. They also have a football, so when the parking lot clears out, they dash outside and toss it to one another. Ryan Anderson and another pitcher played catch in an empty field recently to keep their arms loose. Whitlock sets a timer for 15 minutes and runs laps around the hotel until it dings.

Milam’s roommates pull out their wedges and practice chipping over pillows. Reid Anderson brought a keyboard to spring training with the intention of learning to play. Now he has all the time in the world. One of his roommates plays the guitar, so in the afternoons they try to jam together for about an hour. Milam, 22, and his roommates played Monopoly for six hours earlier this week.

“We’re just trying to get through it,” Milam says.

They usually call or FaceTime with relatives in the afternoons and evenings. And those are the moments when they reconnect with how serious this all is: Most of them have grandparents who are at risk for complications from the virus. Their lives could transform from boring to terrifying in an instant.

The players plan to return home on March 25, so long as they display no symptoms. Then they will transition from quarantine into social distancing, which they will quickly learn is similar: They will still pass their days staring out the window. But there will be no break to spend a few minutes in civilization.