PHOENIX – A month ago, Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly didn’t expect he would have time for some of his hobbies.
The Arizona State product was in the middle of his second spring training with the club, looking to build on a solid rookie season and earn a spot at the back end of an up-and-coming rotation. Like so many other things, however, Kelly’s pursuit of this goal was put on hold when MLB decided to delay operations due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it sucks,” Kelly said about the postponement of the baseball season. “You work all offseason for the season to start, especially with the timing that everything got put on hiatus with being right in the middle of spring training. Everybody was starting to ramp up, starting to get excited for Opening Day right around the corner and it came to a screeching halt.”
To kill time in the absence of baseball, Kelly has turned to activities normally reserved for the offseason, such as golfing and playing “MLB: The Show 20” to get his baseball fix.
“Anything that doesn’t include being in season, I guess you could put it into that category,” Kelly said about how he’s kept himself busy. “Me and my wife, we’ve hammered out some Netflix. We watched “Ozark,” we like that show a lot, but there’s pretty much a different show and a different movie on almost every night.”
Things haven’t been all fun and games for Kelly, however, as he has still made it a priority to stay as ready as possible for the start of the season, whenever it may be.
His connections to Arizona – he attended Desert Mountain High School and Yavapai College – have come in handy during this time, as one of his trainers has kept his doors open to Kelly and a select few others to help them stay in playing shape.
“We get in there in the morning and the group that I go in with, there’s only three of us in there at a time,” Kelly said. “We kind of just get in, get our stuff done and get out, so I’ve been pretty lucky. I know guys are finding parks and anything that they can. I’ve been pretty lucky so far that I can get in there.”
MLB has not announced plans for when it will begin the 2020 season, if at all. When the time does come, Kelly believes that players will need an extended grace period similar to spring training before they get rolling. Starters, in particular, need time to get ready, Kelly said, as they need to build stamina for longer outings.
“The toughest thing is with things so much up in the air, guys don’t really know the workload that they should be doing right now,” Kelly said. “I’ve talked to guys that are throwing three days a week, I’ve talked to guys that are throwing bullpens twice a week and kind of anywhere in between. I think as organizations, they would obviously put health at the forefront of that (decision).
“Just to give a ballpark, I would say at least a month to get built back up,” he said. “Especially the starting pitchers I think would be the biggest issue when it comes to speeding up things just because we need to get built back up. We need to get back up to five, six innings before we start games, at least. Minimum, I think we’re probably looking at a month of practice before we actually start strapping it on and playing some real games.”
When baseball does resume, it is increasingly possible that games will be played without fans. Kelly acknowledges that this would initially be strange, but he would be on board with the idea as long as the necessary precautions are taken.
“A stadium built for 50,000 with nobody in there, it would probably be a little eerie,” he said. “You’d be able to hear a lot more conversations that go on in the dugout and on the field and that type of stuff. But honestly, I think the fans would love it. I think at this point, we just want to play and they just want to watch some baseball, so as long as we could televise it and we could play, I think it’s kind of a win-win for everybody.”
Despite his eagerness to get back on the field, Kelly understands that the need to take care of other stuff going on takes greater priority over the return of baseball.
“It’s definitely not ideal, but you just try to look at the bigger picture. Obviously we can’t play baseball, but you look at the world and there are a lot of people out there that are way worse off than just not being able to play baseball, so you’ve got to keep that in perspective at the same time.”
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