Pitchers who are confined to their homes during the pandemic are challenged to find a mound and perhaps a willing partner to provide a target. Hitters are relegated to batting cages, if they have one built or access to a facility that’s open, in order to stay sharp.
What’s an infielder to do?
José Flores, who replaced Bobby Dickerson as Orioles third base coach and infield instructor prior to the 2019 season, is trying to teach and encourage from Puerto Rico. He doesn’t know whether spring training will restart and a season will be played in its truncated form, but everyone needs to be prepared.
The task is made easier via weekly Zoom meetings set up by manager Brandon Hyde.
“As coaches, I believe my responsibility is to try to communicate as much as possible with all the infielders, just to make sure that they’re staying as close to ready as possible so when we start spring training, which we know is going to be a short version, they are pretty much as close to ready as possible so we can kick it up into the year a little faster than normal,” Flores said this week during a phone call.
“With that being said, I’m exchanging texts with each and every one of them, just making sure that they’re doing a couple of drills, even though it’s not the same as being as a team on the field. Some of them have worked out a little bit more than others, but pretty much all of them are kicking it into gear as we approach hopefully the beginning of spring training and we’ll come to an agreement.”
This is where infielders really need to get creative and rely on others. The solo work is trickier, but not impossible.
“I think the most important thing, at least during spring training, they’ve seen a bunch of stationary drills that I do that I believe will keep your eye-hand coordination sharp so when the time comes that they can at least see the ball in the glove and this and that,” Flores said.
“On top of that, I’ve done a bunch of reaction drills. There’s some work that you can do against a wall so you can actually continue to work on your footwork. And some of these guys, believe it or not, they’ve got family members or close friends that can hit a ground ball every now and then. So even though they’re probably not on the field 100 percent of the time on a daily basis, they are still getting their work done and I’ve been trying to help them out as much as I possibly can with drills.
“If I see, like for example, Noonie (Renato Núñez) didn’t have in the beginning of the quarantine many people that he could work out with, so I explained to him what type of drills he could do to work on his reactions. We were doing a lot of reaction work during spring training, knowing coming in that it was one thing that he needed to work on, and he was actually doing pretty good, so we don’t want all this work that we did during the course of spring training defensively to go back now and having to restart it all over again on a three-week period, which I don’t think could be possible.
“So it’s part of his duties and responsibilities with the job that he has in the big leagues to hopefully try to stay in shape and as close to ready as possible so when we report to spring training he’s ready to kick it into gear.”
Flores returned home a few days after the Orioles shut down their complex in Sarasota. He’s gone from major league coach and instructor to handyman.
Drills are still in use. Just not the kind that he held back in March.
“I’m a house hen right now,” he said, laughing. “Just working around the house, pretty much trying to get everything ready so when I get back from the season being over, I won’t have to do as much work as I normally do when I get back.
“I’ve been painting all the interior of the house and doing a lot of roof work. Just trying to be a handyman when I’m actually not. Practicing my plumbing and all kinds of stuff. Electricity. I’ve been doing ceiling fans and stuff like that, but it’s been fun.”
Flores would like to hold his grandson again. He left camp in the third week of February for the birth of Carson Ryan in Orlando, but the pandemic has restricted contact to video interactions.
“Even though I’m not with him in person, I’ve been able to FaceTime pretty much every day. So I’m having a blast with that,” Flores said.
“Also, I’m spending quality time with the wife. And even though I haven’t been able to see my family a lot because of the lockdown, I’ve still been able to talk a lot more often with my mom and dad and the last couple of weeks we’ve actually been able to see each other a little bit more often than normal. That’s something they’re not used to happening this time of the year, so I’m pretty sure they’ve enjoyed that as much as I do. So can’t complain in that regard.”
Flores marvels at how quickly Carson is growing.
“He’s already over two feet long,” Flores said. “His dad is 6-foot-6, and then my daughter is like 5-foot-7, so he’s going to be a big one. We’ll see if he becomes a pure shortstop or a center fielder or a starter in the big leagues. You never know.”
Flores said the island implemented a full lockdown and curfew a day after he returned. Airports only have a limited number of flights in and out.
“It was like that for about two months,” he said. “I think we’ve actually done pretty good with the crisis. I think we have about 2,000, maybe 2,100 cases out of 3 1/2 million people who live here and about 200 deaths. It can be worse.
“I just want to be as cautious as possible, especially with a brand new baby. We’re planning on going over there, but we just want to make sure that everything is under control here and in Florida because we know there were a bunch of cases in Florida as well.”