As Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black recently walked through the parking lot of a Home Depot near his Rancho Santa Fe home, a stranger flagged him down.
The man asked what the former Padres manager was doing during our uncertain, rapidly changing coronavirus days.
“I said, ‘This is it. You’re looking at it,’ “ Black said.
Instead of penciling through lineup options for Thursday’s once-scheduled opener at Petco Park, Black lapped through Costco, Vons and the home improvement retailer. Instead of figuring out how to attack the top of the Padres lineup, he stopped to talk baseball with the first person suffering from the same itch.
The chat continued.
“He asked if I was on the 1985 World Series team in Kansas City. I said, yeah,” Black said. “He said, ‘I was watching MLB Network the other day. Did you play with George Brett in that pine tar game?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I was the starter. Got knocked out in the sixth (inning).’
“We had nothing else to do, so we talked. It was great.”
Though life has slowed for most, it can feel especially jarring for managers winnowing down rosters to 26 players while setting the tone for a 162-game grind unlike anything in sports.
Suddenly, the massive machinery of baseball — a warming moment on the calendar — was silenced.
Going cold turkey stings.
“(Angels manager) Joe Maddon and I were texting as we watched the 1979 World Series, the Orioles and Pirates, on MLB Network,” Black said. “Then we were texting during a special on (fiery late manager) Billy Martin. I’ve been watching a lot of baseball stuff.”
Analyzing how and when baseball finds its footing again creates some fascinating what-ifs. A second, abbreviated spring training? A shortened season? Suggestions of seven-inning doubleheaders?
It’s all fair game, Black said.
“We have an opportunity in our sport to be as creative as possible this year and see how it plays out,” said Black, who enters his fourth season with the Rockies after working parts of nine with the Padres. “The seven-inning doubleheader thing, expand the playoffs a little bit, neutral-site potential, expanded rosters for doubleheaders.
“The creativity thing is right in front of us this year and some of it might make sense in the future. It’s time to put our heads together.”
Baseball has shown its adaptability before. The 1994 strike lingered into the following season, which was trimmed to 144 games. When a deal was struck, the game lurched to life.
“When it was ratified, all hell broke loose,” said Black, then a 37-year-old pitcher entering his final MLB season — this one with the World Series-bound Indians. “Everybody just hauled ass to camp. We had three weeks of spring training. We had expanded rosters from the get-go. We’ve done it before.
“Players want time frames. They want structure. If you give it to them, even if it’s a short period of time, they’ll adapt.”
There’s no way of knowing when baseball could return.
“I don’t know,” Black said. “I hope in June. If not, I hope July. How about that answer?”
What if baseball plays without fans for a period of time?
“It’ll be surreal, but I’m OK with that,” he said. “Obviously the games count.”
The ripples extend in all directions. Consider the World Baseball Classic, which had its recent qualifying rounds postponed. Teams like France, led by Black’s friend and former manager Bruce Bochy, were a day away from fighting for spots in next year’s main tournament.
The popular event, scheduled for next March 9-23 in Taiwan, Tokyo, Phoenix and Miami, remains in flux.
“I don’t know how they’d do the qualifiers,” Black said. “If this season goes into November, does it make sense to have a WBC when guys are getting fired up again in February to play games after ending the season late?
“Do you push it back a year? That’s probable, too. Everything’s on the table.”
Black has traded balls and strikes for some impromptu babysitting.
“Fortunately, my two daughters are close so I’ve been able to see them,” he said. “I’ve got a young granddaughter (1), so it’s great to hang out with her. I’m getting my workout, following her around.”
The new reality pokes its head up along the way.
“Most of my travel is up and down the 5 and there’s nobody on the road,” Black said.
Not every change has been for the worse.
“The thing that I’ve noticed, everybody’s super respectful of each other,” Black said. “There’s a different friendliness, if that’s the word.”
Even in parking lots.
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