Of the many questions that linger as baseball moves closer to a 2020 season, two of the most common are where teams will hold their second spring training camps and what’s a reasonable amount of time for pitchers to get ready.
The Orioles are going to conduct their workouts in Maryland, whether strictly at Camden Yards or spread out to include one or more of their minor league affiliates. The new coronavirus cases in Florida eliminate a return to Sarasota as the facility remains shut down.
An official decision hasn’t been announced, but the Orioles are taking their camp act north.
An adjusted 60-game regular season schedule, with only regional matchups and travel, must be released, but we can begin counting down the days. A July 1 start to spring training 2.0 is going to leave less than a month before the first real pitch is thrown on the 23rd or 24th.
It won’t be a problem for Orioles reliever Richard Bleier, who’s been working out with a bunch of major leaguers at a West Palm Beach, Fla. fitness facility.
“I’ve actually been very lucky to be in the situation I’m in in terms of having Cressey Sports Performance locally for me,” said Bleier, who recently pitched to Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. “I’ve been throwing to hitters for a month, at least. I threw two innings the other day, I’m throwing two innings (today).
“It’s been nice. I don’t know how many innings I’ve thrown, but it’s a lot.”
Bleier stressed to teammates the importance of treating the idle period, which began after the Sarasota facility closed on March 13, as further preparation for a delayed season. Make the assumption that baseball would be played. Don’t get caught looking.
“That was the whole thing. I’m coming into camp ready and that was one of the points I wanted to make to them coming back,” he said. “Look, I don’t need to do the whole spring training progression - bullpens, live BPs. I’m already game-ready. That was a big thing. We’re going to be ready, so we don’t have to have an extended spring training, like a five- (or) six-week spring training.
“Some guys weren’t fortunate enough to have the facilities that I have access to, so there were different tiers, but overall, at least for the Orioles, we’ve been doing a great job. Everybody has been throwing to hitters already or at least multiple bullpens.”
Bleier was supposed to pitch in a March 12 game against the Twins in Fort Myers when spring training was shut down. He started to make the drive down Interstate 75 and turned around.
“When this all started when we were still at spring training, we weren’t hearing anything,” he said. “There was really no direction because nobody knew what was happening, to their defense, and a few of us just kind of decided we were going to try to get answers for what to do.”
The veteran left-hander created a WhatsApp group with players in camp and attempted to provide updates on negotiations and track workouts.
“Things happen quickly or whatever, so just trying to keep people as informed as possible,” he said.
“It’s also a nice way to stay in touch and stay engaged because we all knew that we’re going to play this year. The second you feel like we’re not going to play and you check out, you’re going to run into problems getting back into it.
“We’ve been keeping up with people. Everybody saying, ‘I threw to this, I threw to hitters, I threw bullpens.’ Whatever. An off-day. It’s just nice to see what people are doing and talking every single day to stay engaged.”
COVID-19 remains the biggest threat to a truncated season. The Major League Baseball Players Association has agreed to the implemented 60-game season and the health and safety protocols, blowing past the 5 p.m. deadline last night to get it done. But only after much bickering over the summer that wasn’t kept private.
Proposals from both sides were shot down and optimism that grew on a given day abruptly disappeared.
“Me personally, it’s a shame it worked out like this,” Bleier said. “We had that March agreement and everything seemed like it was just going to be smooth sailing, but I guess in the reality of the business end of things, it’s never smooth sailing. And I feel like it was honestly a hit to baseball, but we’re all ready and we’re really excited to get back on the field and I’m hoping we can get on the field and still provide entertainment for people dealing with all these issues that are affecting the country negatively.
“I think there’s still an opportunity for that and I hope we get to take advantage of that.”
Fan backlash also is a reality. Players, owners and team executives are aware of its existence. Of how it looks when, as the criticism goes, billionaires and millionaires argue over money during a pandemic.
“I followed it a lot,” Bleier said. “Obviously, we do care what the fans say because they’re the reason why we’re playing. If there were no fans and nobody watching games, there would be no sports and all that. So we are cognizant of that and we definitely - at least for me because I’m not going to talk for anyone - that’s been a huge thing. It’s like, ‘Hey, let’s figure this out one way or another,’ because I feel like we owe it to the people.
“Also, it would have been such a great time to build the sport and I hope we didn’t miss out on that window. I hope people will forgive us for what’s been going on and once we get back on the field and are putting a good product out there ... I don’t know what kind of changes they’re making in terms of fan interaction. I’m sure there will be creative ways to interact with fans even though they’re not at games. I hope at least. I think the Orioles probably will look into something to interact with the fans somehow.
“Yeah, it’s something that I was aware of and for the longevity of the sport, maybe people are saying they’re done and they come back, but maybe people don’t. And that’s obviously something that we don’t want.”