Managers cope with a ‘different’ spring training

SCOTTSDALE – All major league teams, this spring training, appear to experience a common anxiety. This applies to the uniqueness of the current state of affairs, and the frustration that resulted from the lockout experience. There is also a commonality on the lack of communication field managers had with their players and a definite break in formal preparation.

That happen until nearly mid-March when the lockout, imposed by owners of Major League Baseball on the players, ended. During the 99-day lockout, there exited no communication between management and players, and no transactions could be finalized. That impacted the ability to chart off-season progress by managers. For the common good, players responded by staying in baseball shape and recognizing a moment when the lockout might end.

“The whole situation was radically different than in the past,” said Kansas City manager Mike Matheny. “I couldn’t talk to my guys for months. That means more than what most people realize. One of the main criteria for us and as a staff is to stay in contact. Then, we could not consistently monitor the things they are doing.”

Without contact and keeping a handle on player activity, managers were left alone in the preverbal dark. There was no accountability on progress, or lack thereof, of players, no medical updates, and no sharing of ideas or platforms.

That made the job of the manager more difficult, said Torey Lovullo, manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In particular, a shoulder injury to injury shortstop Nick Ahmed was treated independently and no opinion or procedure undertaken by the Arizona medical staff could be considered. Yet, players recognized the task ahead and understood they would return on a future date.

“Our players are super excited to be back,” Lovullo said. “They were probably on too many zoom calls in the 90-day plus lockout. Now that we are together, and we’re playing baseball and where we belong every single day, I think these guys are really excited.”

Despite the fortune which befell the Diamondbacks a year ago of 51-111 season, Lovullo makes the point his players are resilient. They recognized the malady of the lockout, the circumstance under which they had to prepare without facilities and communication from teams, and the collective ability to recognize a sense of urgency.

“I think this is a pretty group of guys,” Lovullo added. “You try and take the temperature of how they get along, how the personalities are meshing, and how they are blending. It seems this is a pretty good group.”

The ultimate test for the opportunity to monitor players and chart their off-season activity was compromised. That represented a significant unknown and made a period of adjustment, since the lockout ended, that much for critical.

“We walked in here (once the lockout ended), not having any idea what we would see, and how far guys were along,” Matheny said. “This probably been the oddest of all spring training. That’s because we’re walking in here completely blind. Really, how prepared are the guys are, and if there are any issues. Guys could have some physical things and we did not know where they are in their development. It’s been interesting, but I have been very pleasantly surprised how well they did prepare.”

With the transition period regarded as complete, teams are settling into everyday routine. Now comes the order of business. As far as teams are concerned, opening day is just two weeks away, and cut down looms. Lovullo told reporters recently Arizona decision-makers are, as he puts it many times, “having those conversations,” and personnel movement is expected in the coming days.

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