Sitting in a Philadelphia hotel during the first week of the season waiting to find out if they were playing the Phillies, heading home or moving on to Baltimore, the thought crossed Aaron Hicks' mind. For the next few weeks, as there were COVID-19 outbreaks across baseball postponing games and reworking schedules, the Yankees outfielder was never sure they would get to this point.
“I doubted that in the first three weeks or whenever it was that happened with the Marlins and the Phillies and just seemed like more teams were just coming out of nowhere with the COVID,” Hicks said. “I mean there’s been a couple times.”
Sunday, six months after baseball shut down spring training because of the coronavirus pandemic and 84 days after they tentatively rebooted training camps with the plan to play this 60-game shortened season, the Yankees and baseball got to the finish line.
The Yankees were playing the Marlins to try and clinch a fifth seed in American League seeding for the expanded playoffs, which will be played in a bubble — a whole new level of strange for the Yankees.
But Sunday, getting to this point was something of an accomplishment and a moment to reflect on the long strange trip it’s been to this point.
“I did think about that walking in today. It’s been weird staying in a hotel at home. Like walking out yesterday after a day game, and not going into the parking garage where my car is to drive home for my family seemed a little odd,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Instead of walking down the tunnel to get on a bus to go to a hotel. So that was a little bit odd, but it’s 2020 and we’re trying to make the most of it and the best of it. Then walking in today as we’re walking in to do our tests looking out in the fields from the outfield. Yeah, it hit me that today’s the last game of the season so hopefully we can finish strong.”
For some guys with families who chose not to bring them to New York in the middle of a public health crisis, the nearly four months has meant missing their wives and kids.
“I have a five year old, a three year old, a one year old and a pregnant wife so it’s been hard,” reliever Zack Britton said earlier this week. “They’re not interested in FaceTime with me for that long, obviously, so they just keep asking when I’ll be home or when they can see me.”
“But, I signed up for it,” Britton said. "I had the ability to opt out if I didn’t want to do it. Me and my wife felt like this was the right thing to do, and I knew it was gonna be hard.
“So when we win a World Series, it will make it all worth it.”
But it’s been a challenge all season for players, who are very much creatures of habit and routine, to change the way things are done. Socially distancing and separated clubhouses, every-other-day testing for COVID-19, wearing masks and being extremely limited on the road.
The biggest challenge this season, however, for Hicks said was getting used to the empty ballparks.
“Just playing in front of no fans. As a player sometimes you have those days where you’re just not in the mood, you’re kind of tired, you’re exhausted and fans are what kind of gets you going,” Hicksa said. “Especially when big situations start to come up. So to not have that kind of support and have to be self driven by yourself. It is kind of tough.”
And even though they were in baseball’s version of a bubble this season, the Yankees were not immune from what is happening in the country. They are very aware they are playing a game in the middle of a pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans and an economic downturn on the levels of The Great Depression. They have been personally affected by the Black Lives Matter movement and the civil unrest that has spread from coast to coast to protest systematic racism.
“A word I’ve used a lot when people have asked me is it’s just heavy. It’s been a heavy year in so many different ways,” Boone said. “So it’s been challenging, rewarding at times. Frustrating hard. Some fun sprinkled in. But it’s been a heavy year for everyone and with that said we’re fortunate to be able to have gotten to this point, to have made it through a regular season and we’re really excited about the opportunity to go fight for a championship.”
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