Waiting on America’s pastime

How COVID-19 is changing baseball

Waiting on America’s pastime
Sod Poodles win Texas League Finals (Source: Sod Poodles Twitter)

AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - It’s the curveball baseball didn’t see coming; no one saw it coming.

The sports world shifted on March 11, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the NCAA made major adjustments to competition attendance and the NBA canceled its season after one Utah Jazz player tested positive for the virus.

After the NBA made its announcement, it was a domino effect as the NHL and MLB quickly followed.

Every sport is experiencing loss right now, but baseball is the sport that barely even began before it came to a screeching halt. Baseball has been either cancelled or postponed at all levels from Little League to Major League Baseball.

On March 12, Spring Training was cancelled and MLB teams advised players to return home to their families, with the exception of those on their respective 40-man rosters.

Shortstop Owen Miller, a member of the 2019 Amarillo Sod Poodles, is just one of the many Minor League Baseball players who found themselves heading home just days after Spring Training began.

“I understand the precautions the MLB took to ensure player and fan safety for the start of the season,” said Miller. “I was shocked that Spring Training was cancelled and that I had to head home and also upset that I was leaving my teammates.”

Now baseball players of all levels are finding themselves in a situation where they need to focus on their health and safety while continuing to prepare for the upcoming season, wherever and whenever that may be.

“I’m eating healthy and staying in my baseball routine," said Miller. “A lot of gyms are closed and I am continuing to stay in baseball shape by hitting and throwing with my family members.”

Players like Miller, who’ve had a lot of Spring Training experience, understand what the training routine should look like this time of year, while many players were looking forward to their first-ever Spring Training.

Second baseman Isaac Collins was drafted in 2019 by the Colorado Rockies and arrived in Arizona several weeks earlier than his required report day to begin preparing for the 2020 season and for his first Spring Training.

“I wasn’t the only one that had the idea to get acclimated to the facilities and the coaches to make sure we’re fully prepared for our first Spring Training,” said Collins.

Collins recalled the feeling that things were going south on the fourth day of Spring Training. He described that day as “dreary” and said all of his teammates were checking their phones for updates and information surrounding the virus and their season.

“That night the coaches told us we wouldn’t have practice the next day," he said. "Then the next day we got an email saying we were getting sent home immediately. In less than 48 hours, it went from thinking everything would be okay to everything being completely cancelled and sending us home.”

Collins returned home to Omaha, Nebraska where he is currently working out during restricted hours at his former university workout facility. His plan is to continue to workout with some of his former college teammates until the facilities turn them away.

Both Miller and Collins have the luxury of knowing they have secured their spot within their respective ball clubs, however, this has most negatively impacted college seniors across the country who hoped their 2020 season would improve their stock in the coming MLB amateur draft.

COVID-19 robbed them of that opportunity, at least for this season.

“That’s definitely the hardest part. I feel for those guys 100-percent,” said Tyler Wolfe, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Rookie Ball Hitting Coach. “I’m hoping this goes away with enough time before the draft so that they can have some workouts for these players.

On March 19, the NCAA announced that “all spring sport student-athletes will be granted an additional season of eligibility as a result of the cancellation of the spring season. Senior spring sport student-athletes will qualify for an extension of their eligibility clock to use an additional season.”

Jonah Smith, a senior right-handed pitcher at Creighton University, was dealing with the reality that he may have played his last baseball game ever.

“I was sad and I was in shock,” said Smith. “There were a lot of emotions surrounding the day the season got cancelled and it sparked a lot of confusion that I’ve had about the situation overall since then."

Smith is home with his family in Austin, TX, and after hearing the NCAA’s announcement, he made the decision to play collegiate baseball for one more season.

“I will choose to play another year. I would feel weird about leaving that opportunity on the table,” said Smith.

It’s likely not the ideal scenario for any senior college baseball player who was anticipating the opportunity to bring up their batting average or improve their earned run average (ERA), but this announcement does bring hope that there is still time to prove themselves.

Right now, although training is encouraged, health is being prioritized over staying in shape for the season.

“The biggest worry for coaches is for them to just stay healthy right now and we’ll figure the rest out later,” said Wolfe. “Nobody knows when the season will actually start, so we’ll worry about that more when we know more. We told players to get their work in if possible, but that comes second to making sure they’re staying healthy and free of the virus.”

Now, the United States finds itself waiting on America’s pastime. But Miller thinks it will be worth the wait.

“I think the overall feeling will be excitement. The joy of baseball will be stronger than ever.”

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