Welcome to summer camp at Chase Field, where everything is different
Of course wearing a mask during practice is different. Of course not being able to hug teammates will take some adjustment. Obviously, testing protocols are completely new.
But there’s a whole lot of other changes Arizona Diamondbacks noticed and talked about during Zoom conference calls with media on the first day of “summer camp,” the name for the preseason session MLB is going through as the shortened season approaches.
It starts with the very first task in the day.
“Putting on pants this morning was bizarre,” general manager Mike Hazen joked. “Driving into work … it’s all going to be a little strange.”
It all is a little bit strange.
As the players get to Chase Field, they see how the split clubhouse is going to work.
Diamondbacks players are now using both the home and away clubhouses with at least one locker between each person, said first baseman Christian Walker.
“You still feel like there’s a team, there’s plenty of guys around all the time, but for me that’s the weirdest thing,” Walker said. “Not looking around and seeing all the familiar faces.”
The players, dressed — in pants! — go over to the fields. But wait! There’s been a change to the schedule in which practice is run.
Manager Torey Lovullo explained that non-live-throwing pitchers enter the field with the position players. They work out and the pitchers exit. Later, the live pitchers enter as position players continue to work on defense and some batting practice. They eventually converge.
“That takes a little bit of getting used to. We’re used to … starting the day together on one field at one time,” Lovullo said. “But that wasn’t the case today. We’re trying to limit the amount of people on the field at one time.”
During this first day of practice, Walker notices that players are actually seeing more action with these social distancing rules. He thinks it’ll help the team prepare faster than spring training allows.
“We’re going to be facing our own staff, but I think because of that, there’s going to be more at-bats available than there would be just waiting for spring training games,” he said. “You’re limited per position, obviously … For eight position players (Friday), we each got four at-bats in a matter of half an hour. I think we’re going to get a lot of at-bats.”
There’s less time to prepare with these organized activities, but players have had the last three months to prepare as if the baseball season were going to happen.
Lovullo said pitcher Merrill Kelly threw three innings and 50 pitches, which is more than a typical first day of spring.
Walker likened the pause to a rain delay — even though they saw the chance the season might get cancelled, there was always a chance the tarp would be pulled back off the field, and they had to be prepared should they have to start up again.
Lovullo said that with different players at different places physically, he needs a “balancing act” of getting them prepared for the season but not over-exerting them.
“It’s fairly complicated at times and fairly fast-moving at others, but we gotta make sure that we’re listening to the bodies of these athletes,” Lovullo said. “I gotta make sure that I’m listening to the input of a lot of people that I’ve built around me to help me with these types of decisions.”
Well maybe that’s the one thing that isn’t different — listening to the players’ bodies and the trainers is actually no different than spring training.
The Diamondbacks will begin scrimmaging soon and hope to schedule some exhibition games against other teams before the season begins in earnest.
Because once it does, there will be a completely different atmosphere than a 162-game year.
With only 60 games, one or two bad losses could upheave the season.
Pitcher Archie Bradley pointed out that one or two bad outings could have a heavy negative effect on player statistics, and that players need to remain focused on the end goal instead of ever-changing individual barometers of success.
“There’s no first couple game jitters, ease into season. Whenever we start July 24, the first game matters,” Bradley said. “Not in the terms of like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a playoff game,’ but we are going to have, I think, such an intense amount of focus on every single pitch this year compared to the years past … one or two games can make a difference in the short 60-game season, we’re going to be ready to go.