While Major League Baseball was shut down for nearly four months amid the coronavirus pandemic, something of a quarantine Field of Dreams was secretly operating in Palm Beach, Florida.
According to The Athletic's Britt Ghiroli, a group of more 30 players — including Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander, New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt — congregated at Palm Beach Gardens High School to hold an impromptu training camp.
On two occasions, the workouts morphed into nine-inning, sandlot-style baseball games that would have been must-see events if available to the public.
According to Eric Cressey, owner of Cressey Sports Performance Gym and the organizer of baseball’s season secret training camp, he did take some video of both games. Eventually, a highlight reel may be released to the public. However, Cressey said streaming and promoting such an event during the shutdown and during negotiations to restart the season may not have gone over well.
If Cressey’s name is familiar to some fans, that’s because he was hired this winter by the Yankees to oversee their training, strength and conditioning. Obviously, this camp wasn’t just limited to Yankees players. He opened it to anyone in baseball who needed a home to continue their preparations.
Safety, health and being stealth
With such a large group of players meeting in one facility, Cressey says creating a safe environment and keeping the camp discreet were challenges and priorities that his team managed to meet and uphold.
“The health and safety part was hard. We had to have really small groups, use all 10,000 square feet of the facility,” Cressey told The Athletic. “But the security aspect of it was probably even more challenging, to be discreet and give these guys an element of privacy. Guys were saying it was like ‘Fight Club’ or Prohibition baseball.”
“If people knew what we were doing, we would have had 10,000 people at Palm Beach Gardens High School to watch us.”
He’s not lying. At a time when fans are aching for sports content, the thought of watching MLB All-Stars turning back the clock to their childhood days would have had serious appeal.
It wasn’t just baseball, either. Cressey’s camp also included players from the NFL. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett was on hand throwing passes. At various points, punter Matt Bosher sent footballs sailing over the heads of the MLB group.
The most important takeaway: There were no known cases of the virus among players at Cressey’s camp.
Of course, to make the actual games as safe as possible, some rules had to be tweaked.
According to Cressey, there was absolutely no sliding allowed during the games. Social distancing protocols were also in place, which should give the players involved a preview of what’s to come during the MLB season. There also wasn’t an unlimited supply of baseballs available to be used.
There was, however, an endless supply of trash-talking.
According to Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Logan Morrison, the camp did more than help players stay sharp. It built camaraderie as tensions grew between the union and the league.
As the labor fight between the league and players raged on, the group camaraderie grew even stronger. Morrison estimates it was a mix of about eight percent COVID-19 and 92 percent the owners that united the group. Scherzer, a union rep, would often field questions while throwing. The Nationals ace, who had his own personal quarantine catcher in Baltimore’s Bryan Holaday, was a frequent fixture in the live batting practices but didn’t pitch in either of the final week games.
Morrison also shared a story of Justin Verlander asking him for feedback on his slider following a bullpen session.
If ever there was an opportunity for a “Hard Knocks” style baseball training camp show, this would have been the one to film. The stories shared in The Athletic report are excellent. We can only imagine the stories that will never leave the premises of Palm Beach Gardens High School.
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