MLB managers on how they're helping team, family deal with pandemic

Dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is not only changing the fabric of Major League Baseball, but it's also redefining the role of major league managers. This global public health crisis has led to a shift in responsibilities in which the title "major league manager" itself might need an upgrade.

Long gone are the days of authoritative figures like Earl Weaver or Billy Martin, who in the words of Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, were "the judge, the jury and the executioner." The responsibilities of the manager's job have been rewritten, with it being no longer just about how much they know about baseball or guiding their players through spring training and 162 games. Now -- perhaps more than ever -- it's also about how much they care.

There is no better time than adversity to rise to the occasion, and because of their position of trust, managers today are focused on the support and guidance they can provide. We spoke to managers across MLB about how they have reimagined and reinvented their roles as leaders during the current crisis, and how doing their job effectively no longer requires having all the answers.

How are you communicating with your players? What are the difficulties with not having one-on-one interactions in the clubhouse?



Joe Girardi, Phillies: I think it has taken more of a feel of the winter instead of being spring, where you just call or you text. I try to call a few players every day to see how they're doing. We have some players that have pregnant wives and you wonder how they're doing.

Luis Rojas, Mets: We use an application that all large organizations are using, called Teamworks. There we send group messages and information to the entire groups, communicate in general terms, with the whole group. We are also constantly making calls and sending personal texts to keep in touch. Lately we have been using Zoom video calls.

Kevin Cash, Rays: We're doing everything we can to just communicate with them and let them know that we care about them, we care about their families. We pride ourselves on how much we care in our organization, we have always had a proactive stance in that, and we want to do everything we can to support our players and staff. We will start a group text message, for example, with the five or six catchers that are in camp, or with the infielders; we are breaking it up. We had a conference call with the staff and established how important it is for us to try to stay in touch with every player that's in camp. The goal is to speak to each one of them at least once a week. We don't want to overdo it, but I think it's important for players to get a sense of how much we appreciate them.

Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks: This is a new normal that none of us are comfortable with. I'm used to being with the players every single day and having my conversations and developing meaningful relationships, but for right now, everything's been put on pause. My communication with them has been by phone, just reaching out from time to time to different players on different days just to see how they're doing, engaging with them, letting them know that they're on my mind.

Derek Shelton, Pirates:One thing that gets overlooked for our coaches is that they can get video because guys carry their phone around and you can videotape throwing programs, videotape guys hitting, videotape anything they're doing. I think that helps us a ton, especially for us, because we came into spring training trying to develop a new culture.

Jayce Tingler, Padres: A lot of phone calls and things like that. The main thing is being able to have our players in contact with our medical staff, just in case somebody's not feeling well or a family member or somebody that they're living with isn't feeling well, so we can be up to speed and make sure, from the health standpoint, that they're being attended to and taken care of.

Dave Martinez, Nationals: I call everyone to see how their families are doing. Just asking about their [mindset], because all of a sudden what you love to do this time of year is gone. I pick up the phone and talk to one, two or three guys a day, and see how they're doing, how their families are doing. I think about not just our players, but I think about everybody in our organization, and our fans, and all the concerns we have for the world right now.

Rocco Baldelli, Twins: It's a little less personal interacting over the phone and on the computer. But we're dealing with a family here, and we have great quality relationships with all of our guys. Our guys are comfortable with our staff, and that's what helps us trust each other. That helps us get through a situation like this in the best possible way.

Bud Black, Rockies: This situation is so different; we're all in uncharted waters. We don't really know how to handle this. It has kind of turned back the clock a little bit into December-January mode. I reach out to guys over the phone, but I also give them their space as they settle in back home. I know they're going to continue to work. Got some injured players who got a little banged up, so just seeing how they are. And I'm in contact with our trainers, our staff or our GM every few days. The main thing we don't know is when we're going to start, and for pitchers especially, knowing when to start throwing, how much to throw, when to get back on a mound. I've sort of told our guys to stay off the mound, that they don't need to throw bullpens. I've also told them that we'll know when it looks as though things are clearing. Then, we might have a prospective date on the horizon when they can ramp things up. And that's the biggest question I get from the players, "Buddy, when do you think we're gonna start?" And I tell them I don't know, that their guess is as good as mine.

Chris Woodward, Rangers: I try to contact each of our players at least twice a week. The difference now is that it's not 26 guys, we have 46 guys because spring training didn't end. And we want to make sure we give those guys the same opportunity when this thing resumes. All the technology we have now is actually very useful at this time because we can see each other's faces on a screen. When we can't really speak face to face, it hurts me because that's something that I value more than anything, that communication, especially the face to face, to look them in the eye and make sure that you're giving everybody time on a daily basis. When that's taken away from me, it hurts my heart a little bit to not be able to stand in front of our guys to just let them know that I'm there to support them.

Aaron Boone, Yankees: We have been in constant communication over the phone. It hasn't been difficult because that's how I communicate with them in the offseason. It's a different way of communicating at this time of the year, so I think that's one of the frustrating things about it. In my selfish, bubble mode, this is the time of the year when you're getting ready to start the season and we have all those personal interactions, and that's all gone. That's the frustrating part of it, professionally and selfishly.

Listen to Boone on Baseball Tonight podcast with Buster Olney

Boone recently took advantage of being near his team's new ace,Gerrit Cole,to have a catch. Asked about it, Boone added:

You better be on top of your game and you better be paying attention. When I threw with him a few days ago, I was like, "OK, now I see." There's just a little extra hop on a normal throw.

What are the most common topics in talking with your players? What are their main concerns?



Boone, Yankees: Mostly topical or personal stuff. How are you doing? How's the family? What have you been up to? Those are most of our questions. They're getting a lot of updates from the players' association; they're updated as much as I am. Most of our guys certainly understand that the great unknown right now is when stuff's going to start up. I'm sure we all spend a lot of the day speculating and having our own thoughts and opinions about when it might [start again], but at this point that's just a guess.

Girardi, Phillies: I think the strangest thing for the players is that their workout routines have been really disrupted. I know guys have ordered weights online and are putting them in their garage because there are no gyms that they can go to. You can always find a way to throw because you can throw against a wall, but hitting is more difficult. And for position players, getting their ground ball work is more difficult because parks are closed. I talked to players before we left about being creative [with their workouts]. But most of our conversations are more on a personal level.

Cash, Rays: They ask about the season, and it's accurate to say that we don't have answers for them. They really want to do anything to help. But in these unfortunate circumstances, you have to let things play out and follow the guidance of the really smart people throughout the world. We pride ourselves on being prepared, so that's why this is so challenging, because we don't have much to prepare for right now. I'm not just talking about baseball. Should we go to the grocery store today? Are we staying self-quarantined? Are our players all taking all of this as seriously as possible for their well-being, their community's well-being and, obviously, their family's?

Shelton, Pirates: The biggest question is when are we starting up, where are we starting up. People want to know if we're doing it in our home city or if we're doing it in spring training, what's the length of spring training going to be. My biggest answer -- privately to our coaching staff and our player group and publicly -- is I think we should not make any statements or answer those questions because it's all speculation. We don't know what's going to happen yet.

Rojas, Mets: Many players are experiencing problems with the facilities where they train, which are no longer open. But from the beginning we were very diligent, led by [GM] Brodie Van Wagenen and our performance group. Each player has a specific workout plan. If they have weights available, they have a workout plan with weights, or there's a workout plan if they have no weights, for any situation they find themselves in.

Baldelli, Twins: I think everyone wants to be comforted in one way or another. And everybody wants information and things they can trust and believe in. I believe that is as important as anything else right now. It is our job not to leave players guessing. Even if we have to give them a message that doesn't give them every answer. Even if we have to give them a message that it's not what they want to hear. But giving them a message is important. And having a plan is important, even if that plan is imperfect. We're figuring out things as we go.

How will this crisis ultimately impact baseball?



Brian Snitker, Braves: We're going to learn from this as a society, especially when it comes to our families and our outlook on life. This has forced us to slow things down a little bit, and think, and look in front of us and see what this is really all about. Our game will change as a direct influence of what we're going through as a society. Maybe we took this whole thing for granted in the past and we needed this right here to slap us in the face and see how special our game really is. We might just step back and appreciate that there are a lot things that we took for granted.

For example, sometimes there'd be gripes about travel and I would tell the guys, you know, this isn't a 13-hour bus ride, when you get to the ballpark at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, strap things on and play. So little things like that, that are not a big deal, we make them a big deal. I expect that we will see things a lot differently and appreciate things a lot more than we used to.

Craig Counsell, Brewers: I really feel for the players, not just major league players, but athletes in general that have short windows in their careers and a big chunk of it has been taken away, whether you're an amateur high school player or a college player. Hopefully, a shortened season is going to be played and I would expect to see a little more urgent baseball when we come back because we have all missed the game so much. I think you will see an extra ounce of energy to put on a great show for the fans. I think it'll be an exciting brand of baseball and different than just a regular season.

Cash, Rays: That's a tough question ... the perspective is going to change to where it's about what we're providing to our society. What we can provide, what smiles we can put on peoples' faces. We're in the entertainment business and we're going to get closer to that. Sometimes we can get confused and get lost, and our priorities can shift. I think they're going to shift back to, "We're here to make people happy."

Shelton, Pirates: I think the biggest thing will be a genuine appreciation for the game. The fact that we're missing the game so much, you're going to see more of the little kids come out in all of us. I think you're going to see some pure excitement for being back on the field, and maybe that's something that maybe we all need a refresher every once in a while. You definitely don't want anything of this magnitude to create that, but any time you're away from the game, and then you come back to it, you have a more of an appreciation for it.

Lovullo, Diamondbacks: Baseball has been stripped from our lives right now, and it's been hard dealing without it. I think we understand how important our industry is to the general public because a lot of people are missing the game as well. I think just having an appreciation for what we do every day and not take it for granted because it can be taken away in a moment.

Tingler, Padres: I worry, number one, about the health of people; that's first and foremost. I worry about the families that are not able to work right now, who lost their job and can't pay their mortgage or they've got car payments. But I believe that people are resilient. And I look forward to that time of people coming together and having each other's back and fighting for our sense of normalcy again. There's going to be a big group of people, honestly, that don't care about sports. I get that and I respect that. There's also a big group of people that enjoy watching games and will enjoy that escape for three hours so they don't have to think about some of the things going on. I hope, us as baseball, for that community, that we can come together and bring people together in much better ways than before.

Rojas, Mets: I think the passion for the game is going to be higher than ever because we miss it so much, including the fans. I think that passion is going to be higher than ever.

Black, Rockies: I think just the mechanics of the game will be different because the season is going to be short. I would assume the playoff structure is going to be different. I think baseball is going to be very creative in the next couple of months leading back to our return to try to make the product as exciting as possible. I think you're going see some creative things with doubleheaders. You might see some creative things with extra innings that we haven't done before. You're going to see creative things with rosters, especially out of the chute. There could be different things in the playoffs if the season is extended into November with neutral sites. Everything will be on the table when we come back to make our product as exciting as possible. And when we do come back, I think there's going to be appreciation for what we do for a living and how grateful we are to be in this great game. Not playing, it gives me a great appreciation of how lucky I am to be in the game, and I've heard that from a lot of guys as well, so that will never be taken lightly.

Woodward, Rangers: Obviously, we all want to get back to playing, but we have to make sure that we come out of this thing in a responsible way to our society and to the people around us. Safety is most important and getting mass gatherings together is going to be an issue. I don't know what it will look like when we actually do get back out there. But when we do get back on the field, I think we're gonna have a greater appreciation when we put our uniforms on. And from a gameplay standpoint, the game is kind of in a transition anyway with some of the new rules we're starting to implement, so this might actually speed that up. And I think it'll be kind of cool to come up with a different strategy, for, let's say a 100-game season, which is a much different strategy than 162 games. But when we get back on the field, there's going to be a little bit more of a sense of satisfaction; we'll never take a day for granted. That's something that I've tried to instill in our players, and our organization has embraced that, so it's going to be magnified. I think there's going to be a lot of joy.

Baldelli, Twins: This is a huge global pandemic, and we all know that adversity changes us all. When you face challenges that you've never seen before, you definitely appreciate the beautiful things in life even more. I think that's one thing that everyone is going to take out of this. We're going to look at things differently. We are going to appreciate what we have and probably focus on some of those things even more when we get to the next Opening Day that we all get to experience. In one way, it will be the best Opening Day that we've ever seen.

Charlie Montoyo, Blue Jays: It will be interesting to see how experiencing some things that we have never done before can perhaps turn into something that we implement in the game from now on. For example, if there is a doubleheader, playing fewer innings, or perhaps games in extra-innings ending in the 12th inning, placing a man on second, some of the things that are now done in the minors. Who knows, maybe those things will end up being implemented in our game from now on.

Do you have any doubts there will be an MLB season?



Shelton, Pirates: I'm 100% planning on us having a season, and I have nothing to base it on except for optimism.

Snitker, Braves: I'm hoping we do. I can't afford to let myself to think any other way. I'm very optimistic that at some point in time we're going to be playing baseball. I think it's going to be good for everybody. I think our country is going to need baseball. I have every confidence that the powers that be, and the people that are fighting through this, which is not an easy thing for anybody involved in our industry, or in our world or in our lives, we're going to figure this out. We're going to fight this fight, and we're going to come out stronger than ever. And when baseball is played again, it's going to be good for all concerned.

Rojas, Mets: I do believe we are going to have a season this year. I hope we will. But knowing the timeline right now is very difficult. We certainly know that what is happening right now is much bigger than the game. Now we are following protocols, following everything to the letter to overcome this. But our mentality is that we will play baseball this year, at some point.

Montoyo, Blue Jays: I am confident that we will play baseball this year. Exactly when are we going to start and how, we don't know at this point. But what will be interesting this year, in my opinion, is that when we eventually start playing, I think there will be more excitement because there will be more teams in contention. The best teams usually separate themselves from the pack midseason, and now, with everything being more condensed, I think there will be more chances for more teams to be in the hunt.

Black, Rockies: I think all of us, and I guess I'm included in that, have a slight doubt. But I'm optimistic that we're gonna get through this as a country, that the virus will pass and that we'll play baseball. And god, I wish I knew the date.

Woodward, Rangers: I feel pretty good that we'll have a season. I just don't know what it's gonna look like. It's hard to speculate obviously because we don't know how this virus is going to be contained. That's what scares me. We talked about maybe playing games with no fans and having to do pay-per-view, and that would mean a totally different atmosphere, knowing that fans are watching, but they're not in the stands. And that might be the new reality for a little bit at least.

Martinez, Nationals: I do believe that we'll have a season, but at this particular moment, for me and for our players, our main concern is the well-being of families, friends, fans. We need to get out of this healthy and ready to go. I believe there will be baseball. I can't put a finger on when, but we're going to step back on that field and we're going to have a lot of fun. I tell the boys, think of it this way, we hold the trophy for a lot longer than anybody else. I think about that moment when we come back and get those beautiful rings and put up that banner in the stadium. It's still going to be there no matter what when we get back. But under these circumstances, I can't think about anything else but the safety of the people and our love for this country.

What else are you doing day-to-day? What has helped you through this?



Girardi, Phillies: I used to go to the gym like five days a week and did a CrossFit workout, where you ran a mile and I think then it was 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats, and you could break it up. Well, I'm not doing all that! I have a bad elbow, so I can't do pullups, so I do pushups, situps and air squats and then I run a mile back, and I do it like three times a week. I've found two 10-pound weights to do shoulder exercises, and that's about it. I'm also spending a lot of time with my kids. That's what I do. Lena, my youngest daughter, she hurt her ankle, so I'm helping her rehab her ankle. We shoot, she dribbles. We sit outside. ... I play catch with my son. ... Spending a lot of time with my kids.

Snitker, Braves: I'm staying busy. My son and I went fishing. We're walking a lot, and I've even been doing yoga with my wife. We can't dwell on this because you drive yourself crazy. You have to take things one day at a time in this industry. That's what this game is. I know it sounds corny sometimes, but you're never guaranteed tomorrow so you have to live for today. We also have a lot of projects around the house here. We moved in three years ago to this house and we have been going through boxes and throwing stuff out, cleaning closets. But I try to leave my wife pretty much alone, because there's a lot of stuff that I just stand over her and I feel like I just I'm bothering her -- I'm useless. That's when she's like, "Why don't you go take a walk?"

Boone, Yankees: I'm blessed in that we have a great home and I'm surrounded by my family. My wife is really good at making sure we have a schedule or a routine every day, with the kids having to do all of their schoolwork and making sure we get our exercise in. Everyone has done their part and kind of shared in the cooking duties, and that's been fun for us as a family to plan out meals. I've caught up on my binge-watching on Netflix. I've also watched a lot of old baseball games; I was watching the Randy Johnson 20-strikeout game that I was involved in, on the wrong side. And I was talking with my dad, actually, because I was watching 2000, the Yankees-Mets, Game 1 of the Subway Series. I was talking to my dad about a situation and what he would have done and what I would have done. Obviously, this is an incredibly difficult time for our country and for the world, and it has been a time to hit the pause button, which isn't always the worst thing, and has given us a chance to connect in a different kind of way.

Cash, Rays: Certainly being around the family is a good thing. But every time you dwell on it, and you realize why you are there, it can kind of smack you in the face. So it's important to stay busy and try to reach out to as many people -- players, staff, organization -- and not really have in-depth conversations about our club or the game of baseball, but about, "How are you doing?" Because we probably overlooked that part of our lives up until now. Those phone calls you didn't make or those text messages you didn't send are important, to put smiles on people's faces.

Shelton, Pirates: I'm trying to help my kids, but I'm definitely not good at homeschooling. I'm also fortunate to live in the St. Pete area, near Bradenton, where our complex is at. We still have a few guys throwing or playing catch, and we'll go watch those, very informally. We have binge-watched things like "Tiger King." If you haven't, you need to look into that!

Black, Rockies: In San Diego, I'm able to get outdoors a little bit. I'm able to get outside and exercise and move around and do that. I've got two daughters who are close, they're both working from home. And I've got a granddaughter now who's 1 year old, so I'm staying busy in that regard. But I'm poking around Baseball Reference. I'm poking around our roster and looking up numbers, and I'm looking up videos of our players. And I'm watching old ballgames. I'll text with Joe Maddon and a couple of other guys about some of these games that we're watching and these random texts like, "Hey Joe, are you watching this '79 Baltimore-Pittsburgh World Series?" and he'll text back and say, "Yeah, I'm watching." And we discuss things like how the physical nature of the players has changed. Looking at ballparks and how, in today's game, how manicured and maintained they are compared to a couple of generations ago. How guys wore their uniforms, just how things have changed over the years; it's fun to make commentary on.

Woodward, Rangers: I know this is a difficult situation for everybody. My heart goes out to all the people that are really struggling. And this puts things in perspective. I've always been really good at making sure that life came first, that care came first in relationships and building that. Baseball has always been very important to me, don't get me wrong, it's my life, it's in my blood, it's in me. But the care part of it was No. 1, so this just kind of confirms that.

Lovullo, Diamondbacks: I've been managing the time by doing hobbies around the house. I love woodworking, so I'm fixing things that aren't even broken. Just inventing things that kind of make the house run more efficiently. At night, my wife and youngest son have been watching the "Avenger" series. There's 22 episodes, so we're probably about halfway through right now. But we've been crushing it, watching maybe two or three a day. It's about the family for me and just reconnecting with them. We're not used to this time together, so I've been appreciative of it. And I'm connecting with people that I haven't connected with in a long time. Just hearing their voices makes me feel better.

This is hitting me personally because of my [older] son being in the minor leagues with Boston. As a parent, you are, obviously, very concerned about their health and well-being and you always hope for the best for your children. So it hits a little bit closer to home when it's touching him as well.

Montoyo, Blue Jays: It's important to remember that we have no control over what is going on, so you have to focus on the positive. This has been a time for me to reflect and appreciate all I have, and realize how lucky I am to work for who I work for, to manage the Blue Jays, and to have the coaches and players that we have. I am also appreciating the time that I get to spend with my family, which is so rare. I am playing PlayStation with my kids. I also try to run every day, and I have my own salsa night at home to entertain myself.

Rojas, Mets: What helps me is to stay in communication, not only with the players, but with our entire team and our entire staff. Every day, I talk to Brodie, or to different people in the front office. I talk to the people who work in the kitchen, with the people who work on video, just to find out how everyone is doing. We are a big family, and we have spent many years working together in the organization. I am also working with my son who is doing virtual homework as well, so we are doing a lot of homework. But I really have no anxiety. We focus on controlling what we can control and staying informed.

Counsell, Brewers: What has helped me, and hopefully it's the same for people that are really busy and work really hard, has been to reconnect with people, even with family, in terms of doing things that you've never done before. I feel that I have probably spent more time teaching my son baseball now than I have in the last five years because we're spending so much time together. I have cooked with my other son and done yoga with my daughter, just doing things that unfortunately sometimes you pass up, that now you have a chance to do. They're wrapped in strange packages, but they can be blessings.

Martinez, Nationals: I'm at the farm [in Tennessee]. Every day, I get on my four-wheeler and I just drive around; there's nobody around. I work on maintaining the property, work on the house, because the house just got done. And [my girlfriend and I] are just working on the house, and her and I watch our shows and then we go to sleep. There's only so many times you can watch Game 7 of the World Series!

Have you had any experiences that are helping you get through this?



Martinez, Nationals: For me, 9/11. I am from New York and I have family in New York. I understood what everybody was going through. But New York rebounded, and baseball came back and took everybody in. I was playing with Atlanta and we played the Mets in that first game [in New York after 9/11]. We were winning that game, and all of a sudden [Mike] Piazza hits the home run -- and it was almost a sigh of relief for everybody. It really was. That moment, watching the ball go over the fence. ... I know we're all so competitive and we all want to win, but in that particular moment for me, it was like, "You know what, this is what the game's all about. Win or lose, this is what the game is all about." Watching and listening to the fans stand up and cheer like they did, it was phenomenal.

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Counsell, Brewers: The thing that resonates for me is coming out of 9/11 and being a part of that season. It felt like you, as an entertainer, you were doing your part to help people get back to normal. I thought baseball did a good job of that in 2001. And I hope and aspire to for us to serve same role this time. Hopefully when we come back and take the field we can make some great memories for people, that's the goal.

David Bell, Reds: Nothing could have prepared us for this. We have to stay informed, be smart and adapt. We have to stay productive so we can be prepared when the time comes to play again.

Shelton, Pirates: The thing that I would draw on the most is when I was a freshman in high school. I grew up in a small community in northern Illinois where my parents were both teachers. My dad was the dean of students at the school at this time, and the school burned down in an arson situation. For me, that was the place I grew up in. And we lost it all overnight. To see how my dad dealt with that, and dealing with that as a student, that's kind of the closest thing for me. It put a pause in our entire lives. But that doesn't compare in any way to the magnitude of what we are going through right now. This is a much, much larger scale; I'm very sensitive to that.

Girardi, Phillies: In terms of short term, we had a hurricane scare last year, the one that hit the Bahamas, where we got groceries for a week and all of that. But the toughest thing I have been involved in within a baseball season was 9/11, how everything shut down. There was a huge fear in our country, and huge sadness because of what happened. But we weren't out long. The hardest thing about this time is that we have no date, no concrete date that we can work backward from. And none of us have ever experienced anything like this, where the things that you did on an everyday basis are taken away from you.

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