What's Missing? The Anxiety of the Final Days of Spring Training
Bud Black's body clock is out of whack.
It's that final weekend before the big-league season is support to start.
But it isn't.
Baseball is supposed to be a distraction from the day-to-day challenges faced by society.
But it isn't.
Not this year, it isn't.
The worldwide pandemic created by COVID-19 has thrown the baseball world a curve.
Instead of Black being focused on who is going to be the 26th man on the roster, how he wants to align the rotation, and just how confident he could be in a youthful bullpen, he's back home in the San Diego area, wondering just how much damage is being done to the world's human race in light of the latest coronavvirus pandemic.
"This is the time of year where the excitement hits all of us," said Black, about to embark on his 41st year in professional baseball. "I miss the build up to Opening Day. I love our sport. I love the people in it and on the calendar. It's supposed to start and it's not."
Far from it, in fact.
Baseball has had its seasons interrupted before, ranging from player strikes and owner lockouts to 9-11 and the earthquake that shook California during the 1989 World Series between the Giants and the A's.
But it's never been anything like this.
"For baseball players and us in the industry, your attention is probably a little bit divided," said Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich. "The stark reality of the seriousness of what's going on takes up some thought and some energy and trying to come to grips with a season not happening right now and literally practice not happening. Those are the realities of the situation."
Bridich took a deep breath, nodded, and forced a smile.
"You have to come to grip with the transition from a period of emotionally ramping up toward the start of the season and now bringing that all the way back down and kind of a re-purposing all that emotion and energy towards what's going on in family, and making sure people are safe, making sure we're all following directions and making good decisions."
A 17th-round draft choice of the Seattle Mariners in June of 1979, Black hasn't missed a spring training since his first full pro season, 1980. And there is nothing as challenging as the final days, when the Opening Day rosters are created. As a player -- in most cases -- there comes a time of uncertainty, wondering if the real world is about to put out the welcome mat. As a manager there is a focused thought on just how those final roster cuts should be handled.
This year, though, as a human being the focus is not on the fifth starter or 26th man on the roster -- an addition that is being added this year. Initially the plan was to delay the March 26 start of the season for two weeks. So much for that idea. Now, the optimist is talking about the possibility of sometime in mid-May.
"This is unprecedented for all of us," said Bridich. "As coaches and players we were two weeks away from Opening Day and now, obviously, that being so far away, the focus is now turned back to what's going on in the world and baseball is sort of taking a secondary phase to all this.
"It's still in all of our minds about when we are going to start, all the hypotheticals. My conversations the last few days -- guys are going to continue to stay in shape, albeit probably in an individualized program in and around their house. Go out and run, do some stuff at home."
Black has cautioned his players on not assuming too heavy a workload in private sessions. As spring camps closed down and players headed home, Black said he warned them not to overdo workout sessions, especially pitchers.
"There will be ample time for you guys to get re-conditioned to play whatever season will be ahead of us," Black said he told them. "I didn't want guys to continue at the rate that they were throwing because we all thought its going to be much longer than a two-week push back.
"And MLB did tell us that they'll give us at least three weeks of a second spring training to get ready for the season. I told guys to sort of think of it as December-January buildup again. If they could have that in their mind. Stay in shape cardiovascularly. Do their weight training. Play some catch. There's no reason to throw bullpens because we are a ways from that and there will be able time for at least starting pitchers to get in somewhat of a game condition."
Black said the starting pitchers are the area of most concern.
"Position players and relief pitchers won't take as long," he said. "I think they'll be fine with whatever amount of time is given us from Major League Baseball. We just have to worry about the starting pitchers and we'll cross those paths when we get there."
And until then, baseball players, like everyone else, are in a life of limbo, waiting for word that things are under control and normalcy can return.