BASE­BALL HAS A FEEL DAY

RE­TURN TO PARKS IS CLOUDED BY A SENSE OF UN­EASE, FROM THE PLAY­ERS UP TO THE PRESS BOX

Chicago Sun-Times - - BASEBALL - BY STEVE GREEN­BERG sgreen­berg@sun­times.com @slgreen­berg

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. ✶

QUINN HAR­RIS/GETTY IMAGES

Cubs stars Javy Baez (from left), Kris Bryant and An­thony Rizzo chat dur­ing work­outs Fri­day at Wrigley Field.

MARK BLACK/AP

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.

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