BOSTON (CBS) — Major League Baseball is exploring several options to come back amid the coronavirus pandemic, but there are several roadblocks to overcome. Still, Terry Francona will be ready should he ever get the call that everyone in baseball is awaiting.
The manager of the Cleveland Indians, and former skipper of the Boston Red Sox, recently drove from his home in Tuscon, Arizona to Cleveland, Ohio to better prepare for baseball’s eventual return. He told WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche that the three-day drive was an interesting one, with much of the country shutdown amid the health crisis.
“Regardless of the pandemic, it’s a long way. I tried to pick the places that I stopped,” said Francona. “The hotels were newer and I showered right when I got inside. I’ve really tried to be careful because of my age (61) and the health issues I’ve had.”
While many are following the guidelines in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Francona said there were still a few rough spots along the way.
“It surprised me when I would stop. Sometimes you would see people being so respectful of other people’s distance, and other places it looked like it was just another day,” he said. “And that bothered me. I’d be like, ‘Wait a minute, stay away from me — I don’t want to get sick!'”
Keeping players and staff members healthy is one of the biggest hurdles for a baseball comeback. Logistics and details are still fuzzy, with MLB exploring all sorts of options, with most signs pointing towards games being played at one or two sites and players having to remain on-site for the duration of the season. That has, as expected, caused some trepidation among players.
“A lot of it is going to be different and a lot of it isn’t going to be fun,” said Francona. “Everybody has to be willing to be flexible to make this work. We’re going to talk to our players about it so when they do get here there isn’t going to be a culture shock of, ‘Oh man, what is this?’ The more we communicate, I feel like we put the players in a better position to succeed when they do get here.”
Players who don’t seem to be too thrilled to leave their families at this time — especially with owners asking them to take another pay cut. Add in the matter of players currently trying to stay in shape without having access to gyms or ball fields, and it’s a pretty big mess that baseball needs to clean up before the game returns.
“There is going to have to be some give and flexibility to make this work, and I think we all know that,” added Francona. “The hope is that we’ve communicated well enough, the players have worked enough so when we hit the ground we hit it running. We’ve tried to explain that if you don’t ramp up before we start again, a couple of things could happen: You could get left behind, you could get hurt, or we could not be successful as a team. None of those are good outcomes.”
The Indians have been taking a cautious approach with Francona, but he said there is no way he’d sit out a season if there is one.
“I talked to my boss (Indians president Chris Antonetti) about that because he really worries about me. I told him that I get it, but I would be more miserable not managing that I’d rather take the chance,” said Francona. “If I can’t be around baseball I’m not good anyways. I understand there are risks, but I’d still rather do it.”
Francona didn’t want to oversell the importance of sports, but said having them back would go a long way to feeling some semblance of normalcy around the country.
“I don’t want to make more out of sports than it is. I know it’s not life and death and I know there are people on the front lines right now that are really up against it, and have been really up against it,” he said. “But I do think it can be a nice diversion, and I think the way we go about this is going to be really important too.
“I know there are negotiations going on right now and I know there needs to be, but I think it needs to be done in a way that is out of the public eye and in a respective way,” he said. “We need to understand that there are about 36 million people out of work right now. And although you have to be a really good baseball player, we are so fortunate to do what we’re doing. That needs to be recognized. People aren’t going to appreciate the fact that millionaires are perceived to be complaining. We need to be respectful of that.”