WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Ten days from Monday, the Yankees were supposed to begin their 2020 season in Baltimore against the Orioles, a season Yankees fans are anticipating as much as any in recent history. Ten days ago, the biggest concern for Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman was about Aaron Judge’s ribs, and whether the Yankees’ biggest and best player would be ready for Opening Day.
You know what has happened since in the world, and in the world of professional sports. Tennis canceled one of the year’s most important tournaments, in Indian Wells, Calif. That was the first real domino to fall in the U.S. sports world. Then Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, and the NBA suspended its season, as did other professional sports leagues, the PGA Tour and college athletics.
Sports have disappeared from the national landscape and the national consciousness in a way they haven't since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. But after that tragedy, baseball returned shortly after as people used the national pastime as an avenue of escape, a chance to heal. This time is different. The national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic will require sports to remain absent for a while. On Monday, MLB announced that Opening Day would be delayed at least eight weeks in accordance with CDC guidelines.
• Yanks' workouts may cease as situation evolves
These days, Cashman’s time is occupied with occasional conversations with the big league ballplayers who are still at the Yankees' complex in Tampa and delivering box lunches being delivered to self-quarantined Yankees Minor Leaguers after one of them tested positive for the coronavirus over the weekend. He's also having ongoing conversations with the Hillsborough County Department of Health, some of them involving extensive cleaning of the team’s Minor League complex.
It wasn’t so long ago that Cashman’s son, a talented high school shortstop, was still coming to Florida and to Spring Training, on spring break. Now he is back home in Connecticut with his older sister, whose college has suspended classes.
“It’s not just baseball,” Cashman said by phone on Monday morning. “What we’re all watching is the slow rollback of everything in the world as we used to know it.”
There have been times when we lost baseball, in-season, because of labor disputes. In 1994, the season was called off, and the World Series along with it, in the middle of August. But even during World War II, the games went on. Not now. The business of baseball, at the time when Spring Training was supposed to be coming to a close, has become vastly different than when Spring Training began.
“It is a little different,” Cashman said from his office in Tampa. “But then so is everything right now.”
We got to talking about all the precautions being taken because of the positive test in Yankees camp and Cashman said, “Trust me on something: Deep clean wasn’t in my vocabulary a few weeks ago.”
He continued: “The operative word, for everybody right now, is isolation.”
Opening Day has been pushed back indefinitely. No one is sure how long the players will need to be ready for a regular-season schedule once teams resume organized workouts. All the healthy players, especially pitchers, were rounding into the kind of baseball shape they needed to start the season. Now they don’t just worry about their own general health, they worry about the health of their families and their friends, and everyone with whom they come into contact.
There were only baseball concerns for Cashman not so very long ago, for him and everybody else who has a job like his in baseball. He had lost James Paxton to back surgery and Luis Severino to Tommy John surgery. Giancarlo Stanton was doubtful for Opening Day because of a right calf injury, Judge with a fracture to his first right rib.
Then everything changed, in this extraordinary spring of 2020.
“It’s like the universe is in a holding pattern,” Cashman said.