There is no joy in Mudville. Or in Chicago for that matter, as the COVID-19 pandemic has struck out Major League Baseball. Last week, opening day was canceled, and for now, baseball fans have no idea when — or in what form — the baseball season will begin.
Last month, “Chicago Tonight” previewed the season with Sox broadcaster Jason Benetti and Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper. Now it’s time to check in again to talk about what might have been — and what may happen in the weeks to come.
How was spring training going for the Cubs and Sox at the time of the MLB shutdown?
Benetti: I was — and still am — very excited to see this version of the Sox in whole. The clubhouse was full of vivid energy and the camaraderie was top notch.
Kasper: It was going well … David Ross really looked the part of a big league manager and I was particularly excited about seeing him in action on opening day. Tyler Chatwood had pretty much grabbed the fifth spot in the rotation as well. No real surprises on the negative side, it was just a pretty normal, well-run camp.
What have you been hearing from players? Are they able to work out during the crisis?
Benetti: From what I’ve heard, players are doing what they can within their homes to get ready for a season whenever it comes around. It’s about being creative within homes. Plus, it’s my understanding that rehabbing players are still able to receive care and treatment.
Kasper: Haven’t really talked to anyone specifically. I assume all are staying in shape as they all do in the winter nowadays … I think the challenge was ramping up until mid-March and then being in this unknown period in terms of a start date.
What has it been like for you? What are you doing with your time?
Benetti: I’ve spent time catching up with friends, doing some writing, watching shows, reading and reading video messages daily on Twitter from fans to their loved ones.
Kasper: It hasn’t been easy. Again, everyone has been affected by this and my family has been very fortunate so far. But there’s no doubt it’s a difficult thing to handle mentally. I’m trying to stay productive at home and also stay in physical shape and not let each day pass without a sense of purpose.
I know MLB and the players union have worked out some potential issues. Can you explain what will happen with things tied to years of service, like free agency? If there’s no season, will players who were going to be free agents at the end of the season still become free agents?
Benetti: Players will receive service time for this season, based on my understanding, regardless of whether or not the season is played. So, Mookie Betts, for example, could become a free agent even without playing a game for the Dodgers.
Kasper: All I know is no matter what happens this year, established major league players get full credit in terms of service time. As it pertains specifically to the Cubs, it means Kris Bryant will go into next season (2021) as a potential free agent. So losing this season would be particularly damaging to this team because the core is that much closer to free agency.
Can you envision a scenario in which teams play to empty stadiums?
Kasper: For sure, I think that’s 100% possible.
Benetti: It seems to me that baseball will do whatever it can safely and creatively to play games this year. I believe everything is on the table, including location of games and whether or not fans may enter.
What could a post-coronavirus season look like?
Kasper: Until we have a start date, it’s kind of pointless to speculate on what a season will look like. My totally personal opinion is simple — I don’t think MLB should fundamentally change what a season encompasses and would rather see it mirror as closely as possible what we normally do. Why? Because players, managers, GMs, presidents ALL approach their jobs from the standpoint of THIS IS WHAT WE DO and if we mess with that routine too much, it could create unintended consequences like injuries and the best teams being at a disadvantage. Yes, tweak some things like extra innings to make sure you’re not playing a 20-inning game with 3 double-headers scheduled in a week. But don’t get so out of the box where it doesn’t really look like the game we know and love and let 24 teams in some sort of “tournament.” That’s now how baseball works.