While the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees were playing their Grapefruit League game in West Palm Beach, FL’s FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Thursday, owners of all 30 MLB teams and league officials were on a conference call making a tough decision to suspend remaining Spring Training games and delay the start of the 2020 regular season at least two weeks in response to the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic.
The news reached the players as they played out what they realized beforehand would likely be the last game of the Spring.
“I guess some of the guys came out of the game and they heard what was going on,” Davey Martinez told reporters, when the Nats’ manager spoke following what ended up being a 6-3 loss to the Yankees.
“So they started trickling in and we were trying to keep the guys focused during the game, but it was tough. I mean I had a lot of questions like, ‘What happens now?’ What’s going to transpire? What do we do?’ And that’s why I said, I think it’s best that tomorrow we just take the day, be with your families if they’re here, just kind of relax and we’ll regroup Saturday, we’ll talk about some things and what we feel like they should do in order to, one, stay healthy, and then I’ll let them know my thoughts on what we plan on doing and obviously get some feedback from them, but I want them to continue to build up for the season.”
So that’s the immediate plan, take a day to be with family and then try to figure out how the team, which was thirteen days away from the start of the regular season, will move forward, now that they know that it’s all up in the air as everyone waits to see what transpires around the country and the world.
“The plan, as you know, we get two weeks, the rest of Spring Training is suspended, we’re going to have a day off tomorrow, we’re going to work out Saturday,” Martinez explained.
“I’m going to meet with the group on Saturday,” he added, “... work out, we’ll have a day off Sunday, the players will have a day off, the coaches are going to come in and we’re kind of going to have a definitive plan of how we’re going to approach this next couple weeks or month or however long it takes. We want the group to stay together, we’re going to work out and prepare and get ready for whenever the season starts.”
An official statement from the Washington Nationals: pic.twitter.com/Mb7L3ahj01— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) March 12, 2020
With all the planning that goes into each player’s preparation, the decision-making on what to do as the league waits is a big one, though the decision, Martinez said, was the right one for everyone involved.
“Obviously we’re getting ready for Opening Day and that’s halted, it’s disappointing, but we all get it. Health is the important thing right now for everybody, fans, players, families, I said that earlier, so we get it.
“We’ve got to do our best to stay positive throughout this whole thing, which we will, and just get ready to play when the bell rings.”
Assuming it does, eventually, ring, Martinez explained, it will be even more important to get off to a good start in what seems likely to be a shortened season, though decisions on how the league will proceed haven’t yet been officially announced.
“We want to make sure,” he said, “especially with a shortened season, I think the teams that get off to a fairly quick start are going to benefit from this, so I want these guys to understand that, hey when this season starts we’ve got to be in like June 1st form, like hey, let’s go, it’s go-time, and we’re going to prepare for that.”
Major League Baseball joins the National Basketball League, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, and more who made the decision to shut down and wait for things to play out before deciding when to start up again.
“It’s tough. It really is,” Martinez said, “... and like today during the game, not only thinking about us and Major League Baseball, but March Madness, a huge sporting event, they’re done. Hockey is done. Basketball is done. It’s tough.
“When you’re an athlete, you watch all the athletes and you watch what they do and now we just have to sit and wait and see what transpires.”
Martinez, 55, played 16 seasons in the majors (1986-2001), and he’s been in the game at one level or another as a coach since 2006, so he’s seen some things, but he said this situation is unique for everyone.
“This is weird. I said this earlier, this is movie-esque, it really is. Like I said, you watch movies and see all these movies on pandemics, and now it’s all of a sudden we’re in one.”