BASEBALL HAS A FEEL DAY
RETURN TO PARKS IS CLOUDED BY A SENSE OF UNEASE, FROM THE PLAYERS UP TO THE PRESS BOX
On Day 1 of the rest of their lives, Cubs players stepped out of their cars and had their temperatures checked.
After crossing the street from the players’ lot to an entrance beyond the left-field wall at Wrigley Field, they had their temps checked again — because who knows how things might change for a guy in his athletic prime in, oh, 100 paces?
Once inside, they entered the clubhouse through a different door than they were used to, and down a different staircase and corridor. Inside and outside the clubhouse, any number of little things were different: where the food was, how much space was in between occupied lockers, which equipment was still in the weight room.
Where the heck were the clubhouse couches?
Gone, that’s where.
At the White Sox’ Guaranteed Rate Field and other ballparks throughout the major leagues, similar scenes unfolded Friday as teams got back to the grind in advance of a season.
For players, coaches, trainers, groundskeepers, front-office staff and members of the media, it’s back to business — with a serious twist. Fear? Anxiety? Vulnerability?
That depends on who you are, how you feel and how you’re wired, I suppose.
For some, it may be hard to make sense of a word like “fear” as applied to such a homey, iconic, romanticized place as Wrigley. These days, the ivy has taken over the outfield brick. The field is as beautiful as ever. The Red Line rumbles in the background, not as busy as usual but every bit as soothing.
As a boy, back before the name “Wrigleyville” came into use, I chained up my bicycle at the corner of Pratt and Clark and hopped on the No. 22 bus. Not once or twice, not five times or 10, but as often as I could get away with it. From there, often alone, it was on to the least fearsome place in the world. Opponents of the hapless Cubs probably felt that way about it, too, come to think of it.
But I felt fear Friday. Or maybe “anxiety” is the better word. I felt vulnerable, for sure.
Twice as old as some players, and hardly in my athletic prime, I worked in a press box that has never been mistaken as homey or romanticized. To the Cubs’ credit, it finally has been renovated and no longer feels like wading into a death trap. Except for, well, you know — the coronavirus thing. Wearing a mask for about as long as it takes to play a ballgame, we scribes sat, properly distanced, and worked. Heroes? Nah.
But the thought of coming back every day makes me plenty nervous, as I assume it does many others — like Angels superstar Mike Trout, the game’s greatest player, who confided to reporters Friday that he’s “uncomfortable” with the whole arrangement.
“There’s a lot of things on my mind,” said Trout, whose pregnant wife, Jessica, is due in August.
Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, only 38, was so sick with the coronavirus — for a month — that he couldn’t speak about it with reporters without crying. Manager David Ross and others were in contact with Hottovy while he was laid low and watched him spiral.
“It was extremely frightening to watch and to see,” Ross said. “He’s a healthy guy — he exercises, is in good shape. It made me think about what [COVID-19] might do to me. You start thinking about how that would play out.”
We’ve all done our share of that by now, haven’t we? Some of us to such an extent it can’t be healthy.
“There’s a lot of people, unfortunately, that have gotten this and were not able to tell the story and were not able to see their families for one last time,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.
Rizzo is a cancer survivor. He wouldn’t be crushing life, more than a decade after his diagnosis, if he scared easily. But even he is stepping out of his car and carrying uneasy feelings into the park right now.
“You can’t take days for granted,” he said.
Not the best ones at Wrigley, nor any other kind. ✶
Cubs stars Javy Baez (from left), Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo chat during workouts Friday at Wrigley Field.
Down the Red Line at Guaranteed Rate Field, masked White Sox manager Rick Renteria (second from right, front) gets his players and staff ready for drills.