After presumably playing three games in four days against the defending National League Central Division-champion St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park, Tucker Barnhart and the Cincinnati Reds were supposed to be in Toronto on Monday for the opener of a three-game inter-league series against the Blue Jays.
Instead, Toronto’s Rogers Centre was quiet, just as Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park was silent over this past weekend as Major League Baseball remained on novel coronavirus-forced
Barnhart said Monday that it hurt to not play on Opening Day.
“It was tough – truly,” the Indianapolis-area native on a conference call. “I texted a couple of the guys. It was sad. It hurt not being able to play. I know it’s crappy to talk baseball at a time like this, but I think it helps some people. It’s fun, but it sucks. It makes me sad. We’re going to play baseball. We’re going to play it again. It’s going to come back, but we’re itching to get it back sooner rather than later. We’re a little ways from that. It hurts.”
As the team’s representative to the Major League Baseball Players Association, Barnhart is privy to the discussions regarding the procedures for resuming play once the coronavirus-induced restrictions are lifted. He pointed out that it’s not just the 2020 season that comes into play.
“This is probably my 64th conference call in the last 72 hours,” said Barnhart, who’s anxiously awaiting the start of his sixth full season and seventh overall with Cincinnati. “The main thing in all the calls is (Major League Baseball) and the players are far apart on a lot of things, but the one thing we have in common is we want to play as many games as possible. We want to play, and we want to make as much money as possible. We want to be out there for the fans, but we want to do as much as we can to make as much as we can. Everybody wants to play as many games as possible.”
Possible solutions could include adding to active rosters more than the one player – from 25 to 26 – agreed upon before the stoppage.
“Player safety is a big thing,” he added. “Everybody has their eye on this year and what it looks like, but we can’t do things that compromise the integrity of next season. By that, I mean playing so many games that we risk injury to players. Obviously, we added another guy to the rosters before all this happened. Maybe we could truly expand rosters. If you push the roster up to 30, that makes more sense.
“They have to protect us as players. If we push the season later and play at neutral sites, then we’ll have a shorter offseason. If we want to get in as many games as possible, we have to be as realistic as possible. If we’re talking three or four doubleheaders a week, maybe we need to look at how the minor leagues do doubleheaders – with the second game going seven innings.”
Meanwhile, like many players, Barnhart is struggling with how to mix not playing games with staying ready for that date when restrictions are lifted. He’s enjoying spending time with his family – his wife, Sierra, is due to deliver their second child at the end of July – but honing his golf game and puttering around the kitchen can fill only so much of the void.
MLB on March 12 suspended spring training and delayed the start of the season by two weeks. Four days later, following Center for Disease Control recommendations, openers were pushed back to at least May 10.
“Preparedness is such a tough position right now,” said the former switch-hitter, who planned to go back to hitting strictly left-handed this season. “If things continue to be shut down for another couple of weeks, you’re talking about another offseason and maybe another eight weeks of spring training. They’re not going to give us eight weeks. Should I be thinking, ‘It’s the middle of the offseason?’ I’m struggling with what to do on a daily basis.”
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