Numerous videos have streamed into the folders on Angels general manager Billy Eppler’s phone in the last two weeks. Clips of players running sprints on hills, others throwing off mounds, one participating in a Wiffle ball fundraiser in Arizona a week after Major League Baseball and other leagues suspended operations in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
All the images and their accompanying conversations have proven one thing to Eppler: The athletes whose seasons were essentially scuttled by the rapid spread of a dangerous illness are at the very least flexible.
So when he was asked Tuesday in a conference call if he was worried that Angels players would lose motivation as they await a decision on when MLB will resume activity, if it does so at all, Eppler declared, “No.”
“They clearly want to be out playing,” he said. “They want to be doing things, living that dream. But they’re also very mindful of what’s going on in the world. A lot of the guys have families. They have that kind of house to keep in order as well.
“I’ve seen some clips and videos from some of the guys and they’re getting creative in how they’re keeping themselves in shape and checking that ‘Drive to Compete’ box that a lot of these guys have. I’m not at a point where I’m worried about it because, again, they’re resilient and adaptable.”
Of course, there is little the players can do to fight a shutdown that will reach its two-week mark Thursday, which was originally scheduled to be baseball’s opening day.
The stoppage will last at least two more weeks, if not a couple of months. Workout facilities across the nation have closed in compliance with government orders. Not even Angel Stadium is open for workouts.
The only players that have been allowed in team facilities are those recovering from injuries, including right-hander Griffin Canning and designated hitter and pitcher Shohei Ohtani. Both are receiving treatment for their elbows: Canning is recovering from a platelet-rich plasma injection he received this month and Ohtani still is rehabbing from 2018 Tommy John surgery.
The Angels are scattered, most of them back at their offseason homes with a small group of others remaining near the team’s spring training site in Arizona. But they are finding ways to get by on an individual basis. Pitchers, for instance, have revisited their winter throwing arrangements in order to find catchers to help them with bullpen sessions. Hitters have returned to their batting cage routines.
The limitations pose a challenge. For instance, the Angels have had to furnish baseballs to players who couldn’t access them.
But Eppler is confident players will continue to take the indefinite hiatus in stride.
“That's one of the things you learn playing — specifically playing baseball and then playing throughout the minor leagues,” he said. “You're forced to adapt and adjust all the time in those environments. All of that training could be beneficial for these guys because they kind of put themselves back in that kind of mindset right now where they say, 'What's my best frame of mind right now?'
“That's different for everybody, but they've all been in that place. So that's how a lot of them, by and large, are handling this adversity right now that our sport's facing — but frankly is something on a global scale that's unprecedented for any of us."
Whenever MLB decides on its next steps, Eppler said the Angels will be prepared to adjust. Teams should receive a few weeks of something resembling spring training, which normally lasts 1½ months.
“We’ll make whatever amount of time we're given work,” Eppler said. “There's so many things that MLB can do to assist clubs. If we're given a shorter window to get ready, maybe one of the considerations is a bigger roster size. I think there's a number of things that people could discuss and get our players and get us in the position where we're not putting people at risk, but we're able to begin playing sooner rather than later. I think that's what everybody would want.”
Eppler said no Angels players or staff members have shown symptoms related to COVID-19. … Southern California native Canning, who was shut down this month, is expected to resume throwing in Anaheim sometime next week. … Ohtani is expected to resume pitching off a mound in two weeks. He reached about 90% intensity in bullpen sessions prior to the shutdown.