Like a lot of people during the pandemic quarantine, Colorado Rockies pitcher Scott Oberg has way too much time on his hands.
He and his wife have been watching all the “Star Wars” movies from start to finish — that is, when he can wrangle the remote control from his two-year-old daughter’s hands.
“She's been on a Mickey Mouse kick right now, so you know, nothing but Disney Junior,” said Oberg during a recent video chat. “And you know, the more we let her play around with the remote, the more she figures out how to use it. She actually bought an episode yesterday and my wife's like, ‘Please don't be mad. She bought an episode.’ I'm like, ‘That's okay. That’s amazing! How did she do that?’”
Maybe the Obergs can recruit Ryan McMahon to read stories to their daughter to distract her from playing with the remote.
The Rockies infielder recently recited the children’s book, “Is Your Mama A Llama?” for the Denver Public Library’s Story Line.
But that adorable task may have caused McMahon more anxiety than being down in the count with the tying run on third base.
“I'll tell you what, I was really nervous to read it honestly because there's some tongue twisters in there,” McMahon said over video chat from his home in Denver. “But when I finally called in to do the reading for the library, I got it pretty good so I was pretty happy with the results.”
If this were a normal year, the Rockies would probably be more than 50 games into their season by now. Instead, COVID-19 has kept baseball stranded like a runner on third after a two-out, two-strike swing and a miss. So, instead of playing ball, Rockies players are watching “Star Wars” and reading books about llamas while their children are ordering stuff on TV.
Needless to say, the players really miss baseball.
“Oh man. So much, so much,” McMahon said. “I have this blocked off area where I'm allowed to take full swings in the house and stuff like that, and I’m itching to get back out there.”
Rockies manager Bud Black has made the most of his newly found free time this spring. He and his wife Nan have donated $10,000 worth of art therapy books for kids in hospitals.
And while that charity work has been rewarding, Black says he misses being in the dugout. But he’s optimistic that baseball will indeed be back this summer.
“I think guys are gearing up again for something to happen here within the next few weeks,” Black said. “You know, there's still some things to be done as far as... how are we going to do this right between the players and the (league) commissioner's office, and how that all looks. But I sense some momentum and a pretty good vibe from (the league).”
Right now, Major League Baseball officials are in talks with the players’ union to try to come to an agreement to play ball this summer. There have been reports that a shortened season could start in July, but a firm plan needs to be ironed out first. And right now, money is getting in the way of an immediate deal.
For Oberg, who represents the team in the players’ union, the bigger concern is safety. Oberg is open about his battles with autoimmune diseases, so he’s especially vigilant when it comes to COVID-19.
“The tricky thing is, is that there's only so much information we actually have with this disease, just from a medical standpoint, where we're still trying to figure out how it affects certain people,” said Oberg, whose 2019 season ended early because of a blood clot in his right arm.
Oberg also mentioned health concerns for teammate David Dahl, who lives without a spleen.
“And we have a broad base just outside of the players themselves,” Oberg said. “We have coaches, we have umpires, we have media members, we have training staff. … So it's not even a matter of keeping the players safe. It's a matter of keeping everybody safe.”
It’s also a challenge for players to stay mentally and physically ready for a season that doesn’t yet have a start date. After all, baseball players are creatures of habit.
“What's tough about it is that we've always known in the history of our game, the dates, right?” said Black, who is entering his fourth year as the Rockies skipper. “Spring training starts February 12th … The All-star break is this. ... We play the Dodgers this day ... I mean, there's always dates. So there’s uncertainty of how much to train, how much to hit, how much to throw.”
Because of his underlying health issues, Oberg has largely been staying at home during the pandemic. He bought an artificial pitcher’s mound that he set up outside his house that he uses to hurl balls into a net. He’s been watching a lot of replays of classic baseball games on TV, trying to learn some tidbits from former pitchers like David Cone, Pedro Martinez, and even his manager.
“Or, you know, you come across like an old Buddy Black game on TV or something like that,” Oberg said. “It's like, 'OK, what was he trying to do in these situations?’ You try to just learn from the past a little bit.”
When the league does decide on a start date, Black expects players to get about three weeks of spring training before they have to play real games. And he thinks his team will be ready despite the uncertainty right now.
But the game could look a lot different when play resumes.
For one, there’s a good chance games will be played without fans when the season starts.
That’s gonna be strange for everyone.
“Cause I'll tell you what man, those dog days in August and July and September, when you're exhausted, you know, you rely on the fans to kind of bring the energy, and you kind of build off that, said McMahon, who was drafted by the Rockies in 2013. “And honestly for me, that kind of gets you through the game. So, it's definitely going to be interesting.”
Until baseball resumes, the Rockies remain in limbo. And that’s tough for a team that’s looking for redemption this year.
The Rockies made the playoffs in 2017 and 2018.
Last year? Not so much.
In 2019, the Rockies finished near the bottom of the National League West standings, 35 games behind the first place Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I think from a team morale standpoint, it was definitely tough to not be able to get to where we wanted to get to,” said Oberg. “And, you know, a lot of things didn't go the way we wanted it to last year, especially pitching, top to bottom from the starters to relievers. So, I think a lot of guys are really focused, really, really looking forward to the start of this 2020 season and trying to put 2019 behind us.”
Black believes this year’s Rockies team will play more like the 2017 and 2018 seasons, than last year’s.
“I think our players believe that,” he said. “And we talked a lot about that this Spring. So we're itching to get back, and get back to what we feel is our norm. And that's a contending team.”
But baseball has to actually happen before anyone talks about another playoff run. In the meantime, players are running out of TV shows to watch.
“I've been watching everything, man,” said McMahon. “I think I've watched ‘New Girl’ like probably three different times all the way through. I finished ‘The Office.’ And my fiance and I started ‘Dead To Me’, we finished that. Then there was a new season, and we finished that in two days.
“So it's just, it's been crazy, man. Way too much Netflix. We need baseball.”