This column was going to start with 650 or so words focused on Braves manager Brian Snitker and Cardinals manager Mike Shildt and how their success in recent seasons is a product of the time they spent managing in the minor leagues.
That will have to wait for another Sunday, given how the coronavirus pandemic upended the familiar and refreshing rhythms of spring training in a span of 72 hours.
That baseball and other sports had their schedules interrupted is an insignificant detail in the larger picture of what is happening around the world when you consider the death and hardship the virus has caused.
Still, it struck me that baseball was still played at ballparks around the country throughout our involvement in World War II and stopped for only a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. But the game was no match for a rapidly spreading sickness.
Once Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive, the NBA suspended its season, and nearly every professional league and the NCAA fell into line within 24 hours.
A team is a perfect incubator for a contagion given the close quarters of clubhouses, training rooms, dugouts, team buses, and charter flights. Playing on would have been irresponsible, with or without fans.
Back in 2017, nearly every Red Sox player came down with the flu in a span of a few weeks. The Sox were shorthanded for a few games as players stayed back at the hotel or were sent home. Several players took the field feeling miserable.
Nothing helped. Players were given flu shots and the clubhouse was sanitized every other day, but the sickness spread. It took a few weeks before the Sox were back to normal.
That was just the flu. Now picture that being coronavirus and players taking it outside the ballpark or back to their apartment buildings or homes.
That’s why baseball and the other sports had to act. They did the right thing, and anybody trying to sell you on the idea that this is all an overreaction or a hoax is somebody you should not pay attention to.
A few thoughts on what comes next:
▪ Pitchers being lined up to open the season in the rotation were two starts away from being ready. Now with a delay of at least 14 days, teams will have to decide what’s best in terms of getting them ready.
Hitters can ramp up quickly. But pitchers need the up-and-down of going five or six innings. It will be a delicate balance to give the pitchers enough work to stay sharp but not so much that they’re wasting pitches in intrasquad games.
▪ Teams with injury concerns — such as the Red Sox with Alex Verdugo — might catch a bit of a break. Some players who would have otherwise started the season on the injured list could be ready for the regular season now or at least shortly after.
The Yankees will certainly play a smaller percentage of games without Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
▪ Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association will have to work closely together to do what is right for the game, the players, and the public. This is probably wishful thinking, but perhaps that will help them find a path to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement before the current one expires on Dec. 1, 2021.
Given what has happened this season, the sides would look terrible if there’s a work stoppage in 2022 because they’re dickering over money.
▪ MLB had planned to host the annual amateur draft in Omaha in conjunction with the College World Series. Now there won’t be a College World Series, so those plans will change.
Evaluating players for the draft will be difficult with most college leagues shut down along with many high school seasons. The top prospects will still get their chance. But borderline players who could have improved their chances at a professional career with a good season are stuck.
▪ MLB is still planning to stage games in London, Mexico, Puerto Rico, at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., and at the “Field of Dreams” site in Iowa. But those could all be in danger depending on the spread of coronavirus at the time.
The Red Sox are scheduled to play the Orioles in the Little League Classic on Aug. 7. That’s assuming the Little League World Series is even played.
▪ The vast majority of professional players will come through this fine. But it’s hard not to feel for the thousands of college and high school players who had their seasons ended prematurely through no fault of their own.
Especially the seniors, many who would have been playing on a team for the final time. All that gets wiped out.
Northeastern, for instance, was 10-5 against a tough early schedule and primed for a big season. A good UConn team never had a chance to play in its new ballpark. Boston College has three players who should go relatively high in the draft.
New England also is loaded with excellent Division 2 and 3 programs.
There are also a significant number of people who work at or around ballparks who will lose income. When you watch a game on NESN, as an example, a number of the people involved in the broadcast are freelance workers paid on a per-game basis.
Again, none of this matters when compared to lives being lost. But it’s a tough time for those folks.
TAKING THE FIFTH?
Red Sox could find a starter
With at least four weeks before the season starts, the Red Sox could take the time to develop a No. 5 starter.
The rotation, for now, is set up to be Eduardo Rodriguez, Nate Eovaldi, Martin Perez, and Ryan Weber, with a worrisome question mark after that.
The Sox had started to stretch out righthander Colten Brewer. He had pitched 8⅓ innings over five games. Brewer was a starter in Single A ball in 2015-16 before the Yankees took him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft and made him a reliever.
Brewer relies on a curveball, slider, and cutter, which should be enough to get through a lineup twice.
Brian Johnson is another possibility for that spot. With the extra time, almost anybody could be.
A few other observations on the Sox:
▪ Former first-round pick Triston Casas, a 6-foot-4-inch first baseman, had one at-bat against the Braves on Monday and struck out on a breaking ball. But the 20-year-old nonetheless impressed manager Ron Roenicke.
“He controlled his swing really well, which can be tough for somebody as big and tall as he is,” Roenicke said. “He got back to the dugout and I told him it was a good at-bat even though he struck out.”
▪ Could you blame Chaim Bloom for wondering what he has gotten himself into with the Red Sox? Since he was named chief baseball officer, the Astros scandal led to the departure of Alex Cora. Then Bloom was tasked with cutting the payroll and, as seemed inevitable, that led to trading Mookie Betts. A few weeks later, Chris Sale had more elbow pain, and surgery is a possibility. MLB’s investigation into the 2018 team is still ongoing, and now the season is suspended.
That’s quite a first five months on a new job.
▪ One of the players J.D. Martinez takes inspiration from is NFL running back Frank Gore. They work out in the same gym in Miami. Gore, 36, has played 15 years and averaged 15 games in those seasons while rushing for 15,347 yards.
“He told me he never stops moving. He only takes a little [time] off and gets back in the gym,” Martinez said. “He’s amazing.”
▪ Let the record show that Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo led the Red Sox with 12 hits in spring training. Martinez and Connor Wong were co-leaders with six RBIs. Kevin Pillar had four doubles and five players had two home runs.
Jonathan Lucroy led with seven walks and Michael Chavis with 13 strikeouts (in 31 plate appearances, yikes!). Rodriguez had 11 innings to lead the pitchers and struck out 20. Eovaldi had eight shutout innings and fanned 12.
Xander Bogaerts (1 for 13, seven strikeouts) is probably looking forward to some intrasquad games and more at-bats.
Manager there for his player
Rangers manager Chris Woodward did something that shouldn’t be seen as unusual. But it was.
When 25-year-old outfielder Willie Calhoun was hit in the face with a pitch and collapsed in the batter’s box last Sunday, Woodward left the game and went with him to the hospital.
Calhoun flourished under Woodward’s guidance last season, posting an .848 OPS in 83 games. He bought into the concepts Woodward was preaching, on and off the field. They had a tight bond.
So when Calhoun needed help, his manager was there for him.
“There really was no other option,” Woodward told reporters. “We do care about our guys. We care about the game, but my focus was on the player.”
After Calhoun was taken to the hospital in a helicopter, Woodward left the game and drove there. He helped comfort Calhoun’s parents and girlfriend once he arrived.
That may not sound like much, but most managers would have waited until after the game was over. Woodward demonstrated with his presence that relationships matter more than one game.
Managers always talk about wanting to build trust with their players. Actions speak louder and Woodward surely earned a lot of credibility among his players.
Calhoun fractured his jaw and will start the season the injured list.
▪ Before the games were called, scouts felt that Gleyber Torres did not look comfortable playing shortstop for the Yankees, and that went beyond the five errors he was charged with in 10 games.
“He needs work,” one evaluator said. “I like him better at second than I do at short. That could be an issue for them.”
Torres has started 168 games at second base and 88 at shortstop in the majors. But with D.J. LeMahieu at second and Didi Gregorius now with the Phillies, the Yankees need Torres as a full-time shortstop.
▪ The Twins honored the life of Pete Frates at Hammond Stadium while his parents were visiting Fort Myers earlier this month.
Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli, a Rhode Island native, is familiar with all the Frates family has done to fight the scourge of ALS and wanted to do something in memory of Pete.
Twins minor leaguer Joe Cronin, a former Boston College player, was on the roster for the game.
▪ Eduardo Nunez didn’t hook up with another team after the Red Sox released him last July 20. The Mets signed him to a minor league deal in January and he has a good chance to make the team.
Nunez, 32, has hit well so far and is healthy. He’s a good clubhouse presence, understands playing in New York, and could be helpful in several ways in the National League.
▪ White Sox righthander Michael Kopech, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, pitched one inning before the shutdown but hit 100 miles per hour seven times.
Kopech has long been obsessed with velocity. But is coming out of the gate that hot a good thing following surgery?
▪ One of the more interesting stories in spring training is that of Anthony Gose.
The 29-year-old was a second-round pick of the Phillies as an outfielder in 2008. Gose got to the majors in 2012 with the Blue Jays after twice being traded and wasn’t very good. He hit .240 with a .656 OPS over five seasons.
Now he’s trying to come back as a reliever. Gose converted to pitching in 2017 and has been in 71 minor league games with the Tigers, Rangers, and Indians. He has walked 60 in 65⅔ innings but also has struck out 73. So there’s something there.
Gose has touched 100 m.p.h. in spring training and is usually 96-98. The Indians were impressed with his work this spring and need help in the bullpen. He is one of the players who could have benefited from a longer spring training.
▪ Count Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke among those impressed with the comeback of Felix Hernandez.
King Felix is with the Braves on a minor league deal and has allowed three earned runs over 13⅔ innings with 14 strikeouts.
“When he first came to the big leagues he was just an absolutely dominant pitcher. Power, great breaking ball, great changeup. He’s had to change his game,” Roenicke said after Hernandez faced the Sox this past week.
“How do I still pitch and not throw 97 all the time? He’s a smart guy. He’s got a great feel for it. He’s different than he was before. But he’s smart; he knows how to pitch and he spins the ball really well. If he commands the ball, he can pitch like that.”
Big righthander Brusdar Graterol retired nine of the 10 batters he faced in three games for the Dodgers. The 21-year-old was on his way to the Red Sox (from the Twins) as part of the Mookie Betts deal before the Sox had concerns about the health of his arm. They took Connor Wong from the Dodgers instead … CoolToday Park in North Park, Fla., is a beautiful new facility and the Braves are happy to be there after playing at Disney World. But it needs better lights based on the dark patches in the outfield. Several Sox players mentioned the dim lights after a game there … Daniel Bard is three games into his comeback with the Rockies. He allowed five runs on seven hits and three walks over 2⅓ innings … Jack Flaherty was 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA for the Cardinals last season. He led the team in innings (196⅓) and starts (33), and he started three more games in the playoffs. He also finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting. That earned him a raise of $42,400. It would have been $52,400, but the Cardinals penalized Flaherty $10,000 for not agreeing to his contract and forcing the team to renew him. When the new CBA is negotiated, the sides need to come up with a way for young players to get paid a higher percentage of what they are actually worth … Former Sox infielder (and current Tom Brady brother-in-law) Kevin Youkilis is 41. Youkilis had a robust .883 OPS over the first eight seasons of his career before posting a .726 the last two seasons and retiring at 34. Though dubbed “The Greek God of Walks” by Billy Beane, Youkilis never led the Sox in walks.