Covering spring training has a natural rhythm.
During a normal, non-global pandemic spring training day, one would wake up and get to the ballpark early. There, the Twins staff would have an open clubhouse and reporters could talk to any player willing to engage. Enterprising reporters work the room filling their recorders with quotes and information.
Before the games, the media could congregate in the dugout during batting practice, catching a player or coach for a sidebar, maybe following up on something they learned from the morning’s clubhouse access. For instance, if Jorge Polanco told you that he’s working on a new throwing angle, you could chase down infield coach Tony Diaz for more insight.
During the game, when a team’s starting pitcher was finished with his work for the day, reporters would abandon their posts and trot down to the clubhouse to pepper the subject with questions about how things feel, what’s left to finish and so on. The same group would race back to the press box to add quotes to their game stories or notebooks while, on the field, players with uniform numbers more reflective of linemen and wide receivers would complete the day’s activities.
After the final out, it would then be time to talk with the manager in the comforts of his clubhouse office. So and so looked good huh? Did your lineup today reflect what you are planning for the regular season? Rotation contender was impressive right? Thanks Rocco.
The ultimate game is to try to entice the manager into tipping his hand on a potential lineup decision, rotation spot or roster decision. In a normal afternoon session, the reporters would attack, and Baldelli would perry. Following that, one might scamper back up to the press box to meet a story deadline or linger and try to talk to any of the high-numbers players that remained in the clubhouse (though starters were long gone by this point).
So you can see how important clubhouse access is to the industry. Gallons of ink and millions of internet words have been spilled and posted based on this chain of events.
It was clockwork. Everyone, more or less, knew what to do and when to do it. If you were some noob like me who only dabbles in access, you could ask a neighboring mainstream reporter in the press box to clue you in. Or ask one of the Twins’ public relations staff on timing. Having spent stretches in camp over the last six years, some variation of the above happened every day at home games. Then, over a period of four days, nobody seemed to know anything anymore.
Last Monday, Hammond Stadium was overrun with Cardinal red of the St. Louis faithful. Lousy with them. The crowd in general was seemingly apathetic toward any impending pandemic.
People still needed their baseball. People expected their baseball. People were thinking who their Opening Day starter would be, not how much toilet paper they had. I was told that the only difference in behavior was now there were longer lines at the sinks than at the urinals.
Things began to rapidly change after that.
Tomorrow: Four Days, Day 1 - The Clubhouse Closes