Aníbal Sánchez traveled to Washington, D.C. from Miami, FL alone, leaving his home and his family to see what the situation was in Nationals Park, with the protocols and measures that the club put in place to keep everyone safe as the defending World Series champs and their counterparts around the league attempt to ramp up for a 60-game MLB campaign during a pandemic.
Once he arrived in the nation’s capital, however, the 36-year-old, 14-year veteran was happy and comfortable enough with what he saw that he told his family to fly to D.C. and join him.
“I think as soon as I saw that everything worked really good here, and I take [precautions], just come to the field, just go to my house, nothing else, so I said to my family, ‘Yeah, just come here and we stay together.”
The fact that things have been running as smoothly as they have, Sánchez said, was a bit of a surprise.
“Yes, it was a surprise for me,” he acknowledged. “I thought when I was in my house, when they said that everything is going to start and I read the protocol, about how we’re going to handle all situations here on the field, but as soon as I got here I saw everything was normal, with the protocol, you follow everything that they say, wear your mask inside the clubhouse, especially when you have treatment with the trainers.
“But outside everything is the same. You can go outside, play catch, work out, and do what you have to do to get ready for the season.
“It’s pretty normal. At the end, the weird part is to play without fans, so you don’t have the interaction with the rest of the people, especially media in the clubhouse, all the kind of things that a player is used to in a regular clubhouse.”
The atmosphere in D.C. and the structures they’ve set up to keep everyone safe, have in the end allowed them to ramp up and prepare for the 60-game schedule which is set to start a week from today.
“We’re prepared for the season,” Sánchez said. “We’re prepared to play a season without fans.
“It’s really important to have those people in the stands. They give you energy, they give you some pressure sometimes, when you’re on the visiting side.
“What we’re going to face as soon as the season starts, I don’t know. I know the team is ready to play, and is ready to continue to fight, and show a good game, especially for the people at home right now.”
For the players (coaches, trainers, staff, TV, radio announcers, and reporters, etc.) in the park, however, things will be really different, as everyone has learned since they started playing games, intrasquad only so far, but with other teams as soon as this weekend.
On Wednesday night, the Nationals also experimented with piped-in crowd noise and some music to help liven things up a bit instead of just listening to the sounds of the game and a mix of voices from players and coaches.
Sánchez said he actually liked what he heard as he watched from the stands last night, at times behind home plate a few rows, where he ate, and took in the action between all his teammates.
“Yesterday that was the first time that I heard that. I think probably the first time that they put it on the field,” Sánchez said.
“It sounded real. I never thought that it’s going to sound that real. It’s a lot of noise, but you realize that’s what you hear when you’re on the field with a lot of fans in the stands.
“It’s weird, because it’s not coming from people in the stands, it’s coming from the speaker, but — I wasn’t in the game, but it’s probably going to make you feel like the real games at the end.”
The real games are going to start up soon. In spite of the shutdown, which stretched from mid-March to early July, Sánchez said he was able to stay in shape and sharp, working out at home, and continuing to throw as he waited to see how things played out, and if they’d start back up.
“During time that I spent in Miami, I worked with a catcher with another team, so working in my house, thank God I got the opportunity to have my own gym,” Sánchez explained.
“So I never get out of shape to be here and get ready for the season. I threw four innings on my first outing, I’m ready to throw another five innings tomorrow, and my arm feels pretty good. I worked a little bit harder in the last two weeks to be perfect with my stuff. Feel perfect. Nobody’s perfect. So, but yeah, that’s what I normally do, I just hurried up a little bit, but I worked out pretty good on the time in Miami.”
Having the same catchers, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, behind the plate for a second year in a row, the pitcher said, has definitely helped make the process of getting going again a little bit easier for everyone involved.
“It’s really important and it’s really good,” he said, “especially because those guys they bring a lot of energy behind the plate for everybody that’s on the mound. At the end, they are really, really good teammates, and continuing on those moments with those guys, they’re strong behind the plate. It’s really good. I think keeping the chemistry inside the clubhouse is really important for us.”
Chemistry was definitely important for the 2019 Nationals, who worked together and then celebrated together after they won the World Series, so how will building that up again in 2020 work with the masks, social distancing, and all the protocols in place to protect them?
Will there be dancing and celebrations again this season? Of course.
“We don’t have to be one on top of the other to dance,” Sánchez said.
“We can enjoy the that moment with social distance. We’ve got pretty good space in the clubhouse to do whatever we want to do with those type of celebrations.”
Sánchez, actually, has already been dancing during Spring Training 2.0, something he said has taken a lot of time to learn how to do...
“I just did that on the first outing because I know nobody is around and it’s between us, but I take my job seriously as soon as everything starts,” he assured reporters.