On Thursday, after pacing around the rental house trying to figure out what was going on, I went to the ballpark several hours before the start of the game.
While many of the Grapefruit League’s day games took place Thursday afternoon, the Orioles would never arrive in Fort Myers. Baltimore had reportedly boarded the bus from their home in Sarasota, only to turn around mid-trip and disembark back at their facility. The Twins were not on the field conducting pregame work.
Image courtesy of Brock Beauchamp - Twins Daily
Even with this knowledge, Hammond Stadium was still preparing for a baseball game. The stadium’s event staff was currently setting up their stations and stands as if in just a couple of hours 7,000 people were going to enter, have a beer and a dog, and watch baseball. Outside, fans were in the parking lot tailgating, drinking beer and roasting brats.
Little did they know that MLB’s leadership, however, had collectively determined that the season would be delayed at least two weeks and spring training games would be suspended. The announcement was made at 3 pm eastern time. Almost immediately after posting notice the stadium workers deconstructed the venue, putting everything away and locking down concession stands and gates.
Derek Falvey and Dustin Morse entered the press box to discuss the details.
“I think we’re all in that boat, right,” Falvey said of the suspension of play. “This is more about the human side of the game, which we talk a lot about and the impact it has off the field. Certainly I think the recognition over really the last 24 hours around a lot of professional sports entities and college sports entities and the change that existed there, I think we’re all trying to do our part to limit the public gatherings and the mass gatherings that have been recommended by so many states and the CDC to limit so that’s been the focus over the last 24 hours, but I think obviously we’re all on a human level taking this very seriously. I am personally for me, my family and I’m sure just as every one of you are. That’s what our players are doing as well. They’re thinking about it on that level.”
Afterward, we were told that Taylor Rogers would be made available to get a player’s reaction. Again, I sat back down at my station in the press box and stared at the laptop and the cursor blinking on an empty Google Doc page.
I texted my wife and let her know that baseball, of all things now, was done for the foreseeable future. For what would be the final time that spring, the group descended the stairs at Hammond, down to the hallway outside the clubhouse, adjacent to the batting cages, and stood at the makeshift press area and awaited Rogers.
Rogers emerged from the clubhouse and sort of shrugged through the series of questions.
“I think everyone is really taking it in at the moment,” he said. "So I think that's why it's best of us to take tomorrow and sleep on it and let it settle in and get your emotions together and then come back and go from there.”
Rogers acknowledged that he didn’t know what he would be doing during the downtime, but that he was a homebody anyway. The whole situation was fluid with timelines and rules changing every 24 hours.
Following the on-record portion of his presser, the group just talked for a moment about the world. Rogers, who comes from a family of firefighters, said that he had heard that emergency responders were taking this extremely seriously, maintaining a strict distance protocol when responding to a call, until they can determine that the person is not infected.
Once Rogers was done, the media group along with Morse leaned on the batting cage fence and unpacked the entire news cycle. They discussed potential timelines (could baseball be played in the north through November), shortened seasons, and fallout (what does this mean for suspensions?). Reporters who follow the team throughout the season asked questions regarding ongoing access while players were still in camp. Everything was still up in the air.
What was known was that the Twins were closing camp for Friday, and holding no baseball activities on-site, meaning that there was no reason for a reporter to be at the complex. With that news, I moved up my flight and left Fort Myers.
By all accounts, this pandemic will get worse before it gets better. There will be long-term economic and medical impacts that are larger than simply no baseball. Somewhere in the Twittersphere, there exists a satirical tweet in which a reporter asks a player how it felt about hitting that home run in the game.
The player responds something like “it was definitely a welcome distraction from the inevitability of death.” Undoubtedly, baseball has been a welcome distraction that carries us through from year to year, from spring’s bloom to autumn’s chill. It might not be there this year to comfort us, not like it has in the past and probably not in the same way going forward.
While baseball is just a game, maybe we can learn something from it. Something we can use to persevere during this time of uncertainty. At Target Field, the Twins’ clubhouse has a saying from Tom Kelly etched on the wall that feels very apropos in these times:
“We’re all in this boat together. Everybody grab an oar.”