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Twins Daily: Four days, Day 3: The last spring training game

It's the latest story in a series telling the surreal experience reporters had at spring training when the coronavirus pandemic took over.
Nelson Cruz

On Wednesday, with clubhouse access shut down, players were made available during batting practice prior to the game against the visiting Braves. Atlanta’s media wanted time with Josh Donaldson so the Twins’ new free agent signing would hold a joint presser, on the field, where the required social spacing could take place. 

When Donaldson emerged from the tunnel, he ascended to the top step of the dugout and said this would be as good a place as any. With about a dozen reporters now on hand, there was an awkward attempt at trying to establish what constituted three feet. In efforts to inject levity into a situation that was causing anxiety, Donaldson told the crowd that he doesn’t have coronavirus and he sure doesn’t think the media members do either. With that, he gave the front row of the semi-circle knuckle bumps.

This, of course, came just two days after Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert was captured on film following a press conference in which he touched all of the microphones and recording devices before exiting the room. Gobert and the video would later both go viral.

The press dining room at Hammond is lined with national publication covers from issues of Sports Illustrated and Baseball America when Twins prospects were featured. It is a no-frills affair in which a healthy option buffet lunch is served for $6 — cash only. Beneath the signage of giant images of Joe Mauer, Chuck Knoblauch or Matt Garza, the Twin Cities media collected at a table and estimated the amount of provisions in their respective dwellings currently contained 1,700 miles to the north. 

The most common answer was “not much.” One person made the observation that if this were a movie, this felt like the scene in which they would show rapid news clips of the country falling apart.

Still, if there were any real concerns among the players, they sure didn’t show it.

“Our guys are not seemingly worried about this at all,” Baldelli said following Wednesday’s game against the Braves. “I haven’t really heard much beyond just general chatter about, ‘Hey, what’s going to happen?’ And it’s not what’s going to happen as if anyone’s concerned for any reason, it’s more, ‘We’ll play wherever they tell us to play and we’ll be ready to go.’ I think our guys are completely of that mindset as opposed to anything else.”

News that Washington’s governor had banned large crowd gatherings in his state hit the wires shortly before that. The Twins’ second series was now in jeopardy. The team released a statement saying they would work with the Seattle Mariners to find a venue to get the game played. 

There was talk of the series being played at the Mariners complex in Arizona. With Minnesota being relatively coronavirus-free at that time, Target Field was discussed as an option. While the situation had grown increasingly serious in Seattle, there was a contingent of the media group that believed the teams would find a way to play.

Taylor Rogers, the Twins’ dominant closer and newly anointed players’ representative, said that if given the option to play at a spring training complex in front of some fans or playing at their respective major league ballparks with no fans, players would prefer to go to a major league park without attendees simply because of the vastly superior accommodations than the spring training ballparks. Maybe not Oakland or Tampa, however. From inside the Twins’ clubhouse, the vibe was that the team wanted to play, even if it was in an empty stadium.

As Wednesday’s game unfolded, Jose Berrios was completing what would be his final outing of the spring. The day’s talker was the probability that Berrios would likely be named Opening Day starter and it was assumed that Baldelli was going to do so in his postgame remarks. 

I recall turning to look down the press box line and watching writers continue to work on their stories -- presumably shells of stories to announce Berrios’ Opening Day role, awaiting the accompanying quotes -- like everything was normal.

Meanwhile, I had spent a portion of the game trying to complete an online order of groceries for my wife to pick up back in Minnesota where she was being overwhelmed and outnumbered by our three offspring. We determined that we should probably have an extra week’s worth of supplies, just in case. 

The ordering system crashed several times because multiple staple products were gone. Now, while trying to have some additional provisions in the event there is a national quarantine, I was somehow supposed to transition to writing about an Opening Day starter announcement for an Opening Day that seemed less and less likely to happen by each passing minute?

Outside of camp, Wednesday was a bevvy of bad news. Almost every other active major sport had announced plans to shut down, including the NCAA basketball tournament. Jeff Passan reported that some MLB teams had begun to pull their scouts off the road, a sign they were starting to prepare for a stoppage. 

Governors of multiple states banned large gatherings. The stock market had its worst day since 1987. There were increasing reports of panic shopping of cleaning supplies, toilet paper and bottled water at retailers. The president spoke to the country to attempt to allay the nation’s fears.

Back at our rental house, I opened my laptop several times and tried to come up with a story, any kind of story. I would type a few words then walk away. Or check Twitter again. Or text my wife. Or check for earlier flights out of Florida. Or even consider the option that I would have to drive home if all flights were grounded. 

Meanwhile, the following day’s schedule included a night game against the visiting Baltimore Orioles but it was now accepted that the season would be delayed. Why on God’s green would baseball continue to host practice games?

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Tomorrow: Four Days, Day 4 - Shutdown

This story first appeared at Twins Daily and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

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