MESA, Ariz. – It rained in Arizona in mid-March. In retrospect, it was probably our warning sign.
Major League Baseball suspended spring training on March 12, 2020, the day after the NBA’s end of the league was triggered by Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert, who tested positive for coronavirus. Now exactly one year later, all the shocking moments that began this time of limitation that felt uncomfortable and shocking, painfully routine now feel.
Even after one of the longest, most traumatic years in world history, the moments leading up to the closure that day in March at Hohokam Stadium are still close to home for Oakland A’s players and staff.
The day before, the A’s were on their way to play the Los Angeles Angels in Tempe, but the game was canceled due to heavy rain. Maybe it was at its best; the team gathered for one of many meetings they had about the state of the baseball season.
“I remember it as a dark day,” said boss Bob Melvin. “On the way we got a call, it was canceled, and the next time you know we have meetings with the group a couple of days in a row, and suddenly it’s closed.”
Outside A’s clubhouse, normalcy also rapidly deteriorated. Fans had only seen the A-losses against the Kansas City Royals at Hohokam two days before. Meanwhile, journalists had been banned from entering the clubhouse, and instead gathered outside in the hope that some players would seep out to talk – with a distance of six meters between the recorder and the player, of course. Melvin moved the media sessions before the game to a bench outside, in the excavation, where journalists had to stay ready when they asked questions about the safety of playing a sport with a health crisis. Journalists asked questions about a topic we could not wrap our heads around and sought answers no one really knew.
The prospects for a suspended season felt so incredible that journalists even kept the baseball-related questions afloat. AJ Puk threw for the first time on March 11 after receiving a shoulder strain. Stephen Piscotty had a rib injury; at that time, a few extra days to recover while the whole coronavirus thing settled down could have been a silver lining for the delay.
Frequent hand cleaning and hand washing seemed the only tangible preventative solution to curb this mysterious virus that would seize an entire globe not weeks later. No one wore masks. No one had a mask.
Nothing felt real until Melvin came out the day after the NBA quit and talked. Watching fans and NBA players flee stadiums galore – that’s when it really became for him. Suspensions across sports were imminent.
“It’s time to slow down,” Melvin said then – that was the last time journalists saw him or any Athletic in person.
“I think what hit home was what happened yesterday in the NBA. When clubhouses are in danger … I think they handled it beautifully. It becomes real, not that it was not before, but more when you hear such things. Especially within the sports community. ”
Inside A’s clubhouse: infidels. At meetings in the days leading up to the closure, the players could not fully understand that they also had to be closed.
“Personally, I thought – I’ll say 80% of the players said OK, a couple of weeks, we’re back,” said A’s reliever Jake Diekman. “Perfect. We stayed an extra month here. But this was much more massive than we could have imagined.”
Hours after Melvin last spoke to reporters on the afternoon of March 12 – a planned game against the Los Angeles Dodgers – a far-fetched thought – MLB put the season down.
“I think we saw the NBA shut down and thought, ‘It’s not going to happen to us. “Then it happened to us,” Chris Bassitt told As. “So, holy shit, what happens next?”
What followed were months of uncertainty. Some major league teams kept their complexes open to players. On March 13, the A’s asked all their players to go home. Suddenly, the 2020 season that was to be their year was in jeopardy.
On that March day, MLB suspended the regular season for at least two weeks. These two weeks turned into four months before baseball came together for summer camp and a 60-game regular season.
Without any clarity during the four months about when or how a season would develop, the players had no idea how to maintain their bodies, arms, bats during the break. Should jugs keep your arm in shape? With most of the world closed, where could they?
“The whole break from spring training to summer camp, it was very strange,” said Diekman. “You would not throw a bullpen every other day, every three days, because you did not know how long it would be. But you still wanted to keep your arm in shape. ”
Back in Mesa again, the new normal is really normal. Protocols that felt foreign and scary last summer have become routine this spring. The A’s are only available on one side of a Zoom call. Testing for COVID-19 has been ritualized – and handling of positive cases is met with a frame of reference. Masks are not only everywhere, but are just as routine as putting on shoes. Even the thinnest audience does not go unnoticed.
Baseball reached its lowest point a year ago today – and the game is improving. The hope now is that baseball can continue going forward in an uninterrupted season with 162 games.
“Everyone has so much more expertise in how to deal with this,” Melvin said. “At the beginning of the spring, it is semi-normal with how we had to deal with it last year. But we have a long way to go. ”