MILWAUKEE — As Brewers manager Craig Counsell spoke on a conference call Friday, it was just eight days ago when Major League Baseball announced the suspension of Spring Training. It was six days ago when Counsell addressed players about further restrictions in the interest of the health of players and staff. At that point, many began to head home, and the men and women who work for the team turned their focus to the larger issues facing their communities amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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“We’re not focused on baseball,” Counsell said midway through the call. “I think that’s how I’ve answered a lot of your questions. I have a lot of ‘I don’t knows’ in my answers because we’re just not focused on baseball. There’s not a lot to do right now from my perspective. We’re doing what our neighbors are doing. We’re at home. That’s about it. …
“Everybody has been impacted. I don’t know if sports has been affected more than other things. I think we’ve all been affected. We just have to get through that and understand we all have our role and our part in helping the country recover. … From my perspective, and in talking to players, I think they understand that, and they are doing their part.”
A special message from Brewers Manager Craig Counsell.
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Here’s what has happened since Saturday:
• Players from all 30 teams were given three options. For the Brewers, they were to remain in Phoenix, where they can work out on their own at American Family Fields of Phoenix while adhering to social distancing protocols; go to Milwaukee, where they can work out on their own at Miller Park, or head home. For Counsell, Milwaukee is home, and he arrived in the northern suburb of Whitefish Bay late Monday night. He has essentially been there ever since with his wife and four kids, heeding calls from public health officials to go out only when necessary.
So far, Miller Park is open, but no activity has taken place there, Counsell said. That could change as some players opt to come to Milwaukee to await the next steps.
Many players have remained in Phoenix, either because that is their year-round home base, their Spring Training leases bought an extra week or so to make a decision or because they are continuing rehab at the team’s complex. Reliever Corey Knebel, for example, was just reaching the stage in his comeback from Tommy John surgery that he could face hitters, an important milestone in terms of effort off the mound. He will continue to do what he can amid the shutdown.
Left-hander Eric Lauer is another one of the players who remained in Phoenix.
“We still have group texts and the guys are making sure we're sticking together through this thing,” he told his local newspaper, the Elyria (Ohio) Chronicle-Telegram on Friday. “We don’t want to have that camaraderie we had built up just go away. We don’t want to come back and it’s like we’ve got to start all over again.
“The biggest thing is that it’s tough to figure out how much you should be doing right now because we don’t know when the season is going to start back up. We don’t know how much of the season there’s going to be. We don’t know how much time we’re going to have to prepare.
“There is a lot of uncertainty. The biggest thing is to try to stay in shape and maintain what we had been doing throughout spring so far."
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Everyone is feeling that uncertainty, Counsell said.
“Until a date happens [to restart] … every question has an ‘if’ in front of it,” Counsell said. “You can’t prepare for thousands of scenarios. Everyone will worry about the pitchers. From a baseball perspective, that’s the first thing you’re going to worry about. It’s not a great situation for the players. It’s tough for them. But it’s tough for everybody.”
When society resumes a more normal pattern of activity, Counsell hopes baseball can play a part.
“Baseball has always played a big role in that, and I think it will again,” Counsell said. “But we’re not at the point to even discuss that, really. We’re at a different stage right now. I think we have to get through this stage of it and everybody has to do their part. Then, hopefully, what baseball has done a good job with in the past, that part can shine again. And I think it will.”
• The Brewers also made roster moves, optioning catcher David Freitas and infielders Ryon Healy, Mark Mathias and Ronny Rodríguez to Triple-A San Antonio. Those transactions were teed-up before baseball’s pause, and it will not impact their pay because 40-man roster players are all treated the same during this time.
“We’re having some phone conversations, trying to make sure everyone got home safely, but that’s the extent of it,” Counsell said. “We definitely have communication chains set up, but there’s too much unknown right now to make a lot of decisions. We don’t have a date for the season. I think guys understand — they are professional athletes and they are going to stay in shape. But we’re a ways away from the season starting.”