Zooming past players in 2020

The removal of media from the clubhouse in 2020 reduced players to images on a laptop screen. Better than just a voice on the other end of a phone call, but a wall that prevented real connections.

The weeks spent in spring training provided the only interaction, and there were no introductions, one-on-ones or scrums with starter Jorge López and reliever César Valdez, who became prominent members of the pitching staff.

Lopez-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgLópez didn’t arrive in the organization until Aug. 9, when the Orioles claimed him off waivers from the Royals. He seems like an extremely nice guy and appreciative of the opportunity to start again after his placement in Kansas City’s bullpen. And he’s honest about his shortcomings and areas that require improvement.

You won’t hear “I thought I had good stuff” or “I was just unlucky” if he serves up four home runs in the first inning.

What I’ll remember about López beyond the results was his preference to address the media in English rather than using team interpreter Ramón Alarcón, who attended the Zooms in case the right-hander needed assistance.

(In a related story, I’ve been told that “interpreter” is more accurate than “translator” based on verbal versus written word, though it’s apparent that the entire world doesn’t adhere to that rule.)

There isn’t a wrong approach here regarding López’s choice. Major League Baseball finally got around to instructing teams in 2016 to employ interpreters (or translators) for Latin players rather than just their Japanese and Korean acquisitions.

Anthony Santander worked hard to learn English and can handle an entire interview solo - beyond the person providing the questions, of course. He did it with me in spring training for a story on the subject, which you can read here. Relating how he didn’t know a word of English after moving to the United States at age 16.

Now he’s greeting visitors to his locker with a cheerful “hello” and “how’s it going?” And understanding just about every word in a conversation. But he also calls upon Alarcón for assistance, as he did last week while expressing his gratitude for the Most Valuable Oriole award.

López also is seeking his independence, and while there are patches of sentences that need smoothing, he’s determined to go at it alone. That stands out for me.

Valdez was available to the media in spring training, but it required a trip to the minor league side at Twin Lakes Park. He appeared in a few games as an extra, but didn’t stick around.

It felt like Valdez was more of a novelty than a bullpen piece, the 35-year-old junkballer who made his major league debut in 2010, waited seven years for a return and spent the last few summers in Mexico. Hard to imagine him saving games for the Orioles, but unpredictability in 2020 made anything possible and he became one of its best stories.

Assuming that he’s at the Ed Smith Stadium complex next spring, Valdez is going to attract a crowd that includes Alarcón. We’ll finally be able to reach out and touch someone, though only with their consent.

I’ve gotten so accustomed to Zoom conference calls that I now fear intimate face-to-face interactions. It’s causing problems at home.

A couple of Zoom rules related to baseball:

No pregame-type questions during postgame sessions, especially with beat writers on deadline.

For example, anything that begins with, “Brandon, it’s been said many times through the centuries that ... “

Or, “Abner Doubleday is known to have ... “

Or, “If you don’t mind a non-baseball question right now ... “

Most of us mind.

Also, if you aren’t actually using these quotes in an article or a broadcast, and just like hanging out and joining in the discussion, it’s bad form and should be discouraged.

Feel free to lurk, but that probably should be the extent of it - and especially late at night with game stories needing to be updated with quotes. In return, I’ll try to stop rolling my eyes until it gives me a headache and flailing my arms as if I’m trying to signal a passing ship on Gilligan’s Island.

Oh, and questions from Jerusalem are pretty cool, though I’m certain that Dean Kremer would appreciate a different story angle, with more focus on his pitching and development. The game stuff. However, please keep the queries under three minutes.

The filibuster after his major league debut already was brutal at the 45-second mark and it just kept going, as most filibusters do.

I’ve had oil changes that didn’t last as long.

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