FORT MYERS, Fla. – The weird thing about being told that camps are being shut down, Mitch Garver said Thursday, is that for the players, it means more spring training, not less.
“We’re going to stick around. It’s not a lockout, it’s not a work stoppage. We’re still going to be here,” Garver pointed out after Major League Baseball canceled all remaining Grapefruit and Cactus league games, postponed Opening Day by at least two weeks, and scheduled more meetings to figure out how best to respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “We’re still going to be doing quote-unquote organized training. Guys are going to come in, they’re going to do what they normally do, but there’s just not going to be a game at 1 o’clock.”
There wasn’t one at 6 o’clock at Hammond Stadium on Thursday, either, when the Twins were supposed to face the Orioles until MLB’s midafternoon announcement, and there probably won’t be another one for at least four weeks. The players understand the need for the cancellation, Garver said, and they support it. They just wish it wasn’t necessary.
When manager Rocco Baldelli, who spent part of the afternoon on a leaguewide conference call, broke the news at a team meeting, the mood got “kind of gloomy, honestly,” the Twins’ catcher said. But “we’re all in it together. Two weeks out from the start of the season, and now you’re a month away — it’s unfortunate. But a lot of guys have kids, parents, people that are maybe more prone to more intense sickness that we’re trying to protect. We’re all good with that.”
So it seemed were the several dozen fans milling around the ballpark near game time. Instead of the usual festive atmosphere around the ballpark, a mood that normally spikes before a rare night game, the Twins’ spring home was a surreal mixture of confusion and curiosity. Some fans were surprised to learn as they pulled into the parking lot that there would be no game, some heard the news earlier and came for ticket refunds, and everyone seemingly understood the necessity of the cancellation.
“They have to keep people as safe as they can. I have no problem with that,” said John Koenigs, a retiree from Rochester who had planned to take in three Twins games with his wife, daughter and granddaughter on their annual Fort Myers vacation. “It’s disappointing, but it’s probably the right decision.”
Oddly, the ballpark resembled an armed camp as the scheduled game time approached, because the normal security and police contingent for a 10,000-strong sellout crowd reported for duty and waited for further instruction.
Up on the concourse, concession workers gathered for an announcement from their manager, who thanked them for their work over the past month, told them when paychecks will be ready, and expressed his hope that another game or two could still be scheduled in April if the crisis eases.
“I won’t still be here in April,” frowned one beer vendor as she walked away.
The players probably will be, though. Teams have asked their players to stay in camp for at least the next two days — the Twins, like most, are giving their entire roster a day off Friday — while MLB owners, management and the players association work out a plan, presumably with plenty of contingencies, for the next four weeks and beyond.
Baseball is a game that thrives on precisely scheduled predictability, though, so the uncertainty is unnerving. “When your routine gets thrown off, it kind of throws you off,” Twins reliever Taylor Rogers said. “We’re just in a really extended rain delay at the moment, and we’ve just got to figure it out from there.”
The players’ fears, Rogers said, are mostly the same as everyone else’s during this crisis. “Maybe just of the unknown,” Rogers said. “Everyone is really taking it in at the moment. That’s why it’s best for us to take tomorrow and sleep on it and let it settle in. Get your emotions together, and then come back.”
The emotion Kenta Maeda feels, he said, is hope. “I just hope for this outbreak to contain itself and hopefully not many people will be affected by it,” the Twins’ new starting pitcher said through interpreter Daichi Sekizaki. “I’m sure the fans were looking forward to Opening Day. It’s unfortunate that things turned out this way. But the best I can hope for is to keep this outbreak contained as much as possible.”
Until then, he intends to stay in Fort Myers with his teammates. The Twins expect to hold informal daily workouts, and plans are already in the works to keep pitchers’ arms stretched out, even as their ramp-up for the season is disrupted. Maeda said he’s nearly ready for the regular season, pointing out that he was scheduled to pitch five innings in his next start, but “we’ll crank it up again” when necessary, he said.
Maeda’s wife and children, who have remained at his Los Angeles home during training camp, will probably join him in Florida soon, the pitcher said, rather than embark on a different journey.
“They were scheduled to make a visit during spring break, and then go up to Minneapolis and look for apartments,” he said. “But things have changed. Everything has.”