Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny spoke to reporters from his home in Lee’s Summit Tuesday, a sun-lit background and the faint sound of birds chirping accompanying the sight of Matheny in a blue T-shirt and baseball cap on the computer screen during a Zoom video call.
He might as well have called the location his temporary managerial office. After all, the club’s new skipper has been forced to manage the club remotely with MLB in a holding pattern due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Matheny spoke optimistically about the prospect of playing baseball this season, and he admitted he was “excited” about recent reports that baseball has come up with creative plans to potentially get teams back onto the field sooner than expected. At the same time, he made sure to refer to any discussion of resuming play, potential roster sizes or what the season might look like as “speculation.”
While players and staff alike are taking advantage of more time home with family during this time of isolation and social distancing, he and his coaches have sought to stress the importance of staying ready and being able to transition quickly if and when baseball resumes.
“Have your mind ready and have your body as close to being ready as what we can do while still playing along and following the rules and being really safe, not just for ourselves but for others,” Matheny said of his message to players.
A report from The Associated Press Monday followed by a more detailed report from ESPN later that night indicated that MLB continues to give serious consideration to attempting to create and maintain an isolated environment where all 30 major-league clubs would live and play in Arizona in order to start the 2020 season by late May or June.
Many of the logistical details remain uncertain and put the feasibility of such a plan in question.
“That’s the first step, is that we know that they’re just kind of some ideas that are being thrown out there,” Matheny said when asked for his initial thoughts on the reports. “But I’m excited that Major League Baseball and the commissioner’s office are in conversation and they’re in contact with the powers that be, with our politicians and our health officials, to try to figure out how could we possibly do this. How could we be safe and make sure we’re safeguarding everybody, but also figure out a way to get the game going?
“That’s exciting for me. I know it’s exciting for our players to hear. Whether it goes exactly the way it was outlined today or not, the fact that we see and we hear that there are people trying to figure out how to make this happen — I think our nation needs it right now.”
As far as what sort of preliminary roster decisions he may have made, Matheny said he and his staff have tried not to eliminate anybody from consideration. Instead, they’ve devoted their energy toward figuring out what individual players need to give them a chance to “jump right back into the competition when we get back together.”
“You’d have to speculate at this point, not knowing exactly how it’s going to work out,” he said. “You hear a lot of different ideas, roster sizes, but more than anything else we’ve been just trying to keep in touch with all the guys. That’s been kind of the focus: How do we stay in touch with all of the players? How do we keep them engaged and hopefully trying to stick somewhere close to where they were when they left Arizona?”
Members of the Royals’ coaching staff schedule regular Zoom calls to go over material they want to present to players in small groups. Coaches will then reach out by position groups, such as catchers, outfielders and infielders, or to larger groups, such as hitters and pitchers, to go over fundamentals or on-field scenarios.
Matheny said his players have probably gotten 3-5 phone calls per week from someone on the coaching staff. The first thing coaches discuss with them during these check-ins is how they and their family are doing; they try to direct them toward appropriate resources if they have concerns or questions.
Players have sent videos to the coaches of their swings, bullpen sessions and even workouts. The KC strength and conditioning and training staffs have put together detailed and rigorous workouts that can be done even if players are confined to their homes.
Catcher Salvador Perez recently posted an Instagram story that included video of him running along neighborhood streets, doing exercises on a back porch with a FITBENCH with dumbbells and kettle bells as well as resistance bands. He also did catching drills in full gear in the video.
Perez returned to the field during spring training after having missed all last year while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He and shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (shoulder surgery) were both coming back off extensive rehabs.
“Knowing that we were going to have to kind of temper how we went about working with (Perez), I think the extra time probably plays into his hands,” Matheny said. “I would say Mondesi is probably in that same camp. He was getting really close to whether he was going to be ready for opening day. This little extra time should help him.”
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