Goodman: COVID-19 Has Changed My Perspective on Covering Baseball
At the time, it felt as though the only obstacle standing in my way of reporting, and taking full advantage of a humbling opportunity, were my own trepidations. Now, as we all endure the COVID-19 pandemic and confront shutdowns altering our daily lives, everything can be put into perspective – even something as small a first step through double doors.
Upon arriving to Spring Training in early February, there was no doubt in my mind that I was ready to put my best foot forward.
Since starting out on the beat for Sports Illustrated last fall, the day that pitchers and catchers reported to the Yankees' spring facility was my first opportunity to cover the team in person. With that in mind, signing in to enter the Bombers' clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field for the first time was a monumental, and admittedly intimidating, moment.
I reminded myself that I have been in a Major League clubhouse before and plenty of locker rooms over the years, dating back to practicing sports journalism in college.
To have access to any sort of clubhouse, knowledge of the rules and regulations for clubhouse etiquette – written and unwritten – is a must. It's imperative you're accustomed to the delicate art of stuffing phones and recorders in the faces of players and coaches in scrums. Plus, any reporter has practiced the elegant dance necessary to grab a one-on-one interview.
That said, I belonged. My mind was temporarily at ease.
It didn’t take long, however, to recognize that this was a completely different animal. That first step into the Yankees clubhouse was a moment I’ll never forget.
I was sagely advised by another reporter that morning to "take it all in" and learn by observing those who had frequented these halls for years. That was certainly the plan, but as I quickly found out – a mantra among the renowned writers and broadcasters I worked alongside – the Yankees will always provide.
Before I knew it, there were multiple stories to write. Gerrit Cole's first day at Yankees' camp was in the books, skipper Aaron Boone spoke at his first managerial press conference of the spring and Gary Sánchez delivered his iconic comments about the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal – explaining that if he ever hit a walk-off home run to send his team to the World Series, his teammates can "rip off [his] pants."
Days turned into weeks. I shook so many hands, introducing myself to countless new faces each time I set foot into the Bombers' complex while attempting to absorb as much advice as I could. Soon those introductions blossomed into daily conversations - with reporters, staff, players and more.
J.A. Happ and I reminisced about our alma mater, Northwestern University, and the up-and-coming baseball program the left-hander once played for. Non-roster invitee Zack Granite and I discussed growing up playing baseball in New York City and how I still haven't moved on from his former high school eliminating mine in the quarter finals of the city tournament.
Cole told me he’ll have no problem remembering me because I’m tall.
Each day, I joked with Woody – one of the security workers at Steinbrenner Field – that I had reached a new milestone.
More importantly, spending weeks in the Yankees clubhouse was integral to my growth as a storyteller and in my coverage of this ball club.
There were challenges, but the reward of publishing timely, informative and unique content was immeasurable. Finding my groove and settling into that routine, covering the New York Yankees, has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
All of a sudden, however, that access was revoked.
The novel coronavirus had grown into a national emergency, forcing Major League Baseball – as well as the NBA, NHL and more – to rescind clubhouse access to the media.
As it turns out, that was just the beginning. With COVID-19 continuing to spread, MLB eventually elected to suspend the remainder of Spring Training and postpone the regular season.
Initially, I was admittedly devastated learning COVID-19 had brought baseball to a screeching halt. The ability to interview players in the clubhouse and tell their stories, cover games and on-field workouts, foster relationships within the organization – tasks I had grown comfortable with over several weeks at Yankees' camp – had been taken away because of something out of my control.
Promptly I realized, however, that this is bigger than me. Bigger than any of us.
This virus and pandemic have already impacted the lives of millions of people around the world. Loved ones have been lost, financial implications are staggering, businesses are suffering, families are separated due to travel restrictions, ramifications on education are unheard of and worst of all, there's still no end in sight.
Specifically in sports, college athletes watched helplessly as their spring seasons were called off, freelance workers (in television production as well as vendors and ushers at arenas across the country are stripped of jobs and income) and fans won't be able to enjoy renowned events like the NCAA Tournament, The Masters and potentially the 2020 Summer Olympics.
I simply couldn’t agree with MLB's preventative measures more. Lives are at stake. Shutting everything down for the foreseeable future is evidently the best option for slowing down the coronavirus and limiting its ability to spread.
Since the announcement of the shutdown on Thursday, we've all been able to reflect in different ways. The Yankees voted unanimously to stick around at the franchise's complex moving forward, continuing to workout and prepare for a World Series run while maintaining proximity to the organization's training and medical staffs.
This unprecedented sequence of events has changed my perspective on covering Major League Baseball forever.
Heading into Spring Training, I already felt lucky, eager to cover this league for the next several decades. I'm beyond thankful to be able to do what I love. Now, however, those moments in the clubhouse, on the field and in the press box – that had turned into my routine across two-plus weeks – have a different meaning.
It's hard not to take opportunities for granted while they are happening. Nonetheless, in times like these, it's important to take a second (or two) to be grateful. These past few days are proof that what we have can be stripped away without a moment's notice.
Sports are typically an escape from tragedies. In the past, after terrorist attacks, natural disasters and so much more, sports have always been there as scheduled. This is the first time, and could be the last, that even something as beloved and well-known as sports couldn't overcome real-world hardships.
To see the massive and continued response from athletes donating money, coming together on social media and focusing on the bigger picture has driven me – and should motivate us all – to pay it forward. I'm now motivated more than ever to do my part in making sure those around me are safe, supported and provided with the content they deserve.
With the virus putting my first Opening Day on hold, I'll have to wait a little longer before I can sign in and take that first step into the Yankees clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. After this temporary hiatus, that first moment will be just as monumental an occasion – and likely more intimidating – than my first impression at George M. Steinbrenner Field was last month.
I know for certain I'll have a newfound appreciation and gratitude as I take that first step through a new set of double doors.
Then, it's time to get to work. Remember, the Yankees will always provide.