With baseball paused as the powers-that-be in the sport try to figure out how to restart the 2020 season, Sporting News reached out to people all across the sport — current players, former players, writers, broadcasters and front-office types — to see how they were handling this unprecedented national quarantine.
The response was outstanding. Insightful. Funny. Profound. So many great answers, in fact, that I split this into two parts. Part 1 ran last week; Part 2 is today.
Here’s our panel, for lack of a better word: Kirby Yates (Padres closer), Luke Voit (Yankees first baseman), Grayson Greiner (Tigers catcher), Jim Leyritz (retired 11-year veteran), Len Kasper (Cubs TV play-by-play), Billy Bean (MLB Vice President & Special Assistant to the Commissioner), Joe Davis (Dodgers TV play-by-play), Tyler Kepner (New York Times national baseball writer), Jay Jaffe (FanGraphs senior writer), Anne Rogers (MLB.com Cardinals beat writer), Jon Sciambi (ESPN broadcaster), Jordan Shusterman (Cespedes BBQ and host of ChangeUp on DAZN), F.P. Santangelo (Nationals TV analyst), Steve Physio (Royals broadcaster), Todd Kalas (Astros TV play-by-play), Robert Ford, Astros radio play-by-play) and Ryan Spaeder (baseball author).
Also, MLB Network host Kevin Millar’s full Quarantine Questionnaire is here.
A thousand thanks go out to all of those who humored me by answering these questions. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading their responses, and I hope you do, too.
1. Have you ever played in or covered an event that happened in front of no fans?
Sciambi: I broadcast for the Marlins from 1997 to 2004.
Kepner: I've covered spring training intrasquad games, and a Gulf Coast League game or two where there weren't any fans, other than relatives and scouts, stuff like that. But there was never anything really at stake. The contrast of empty stands and an actual, sanctioned game will be jarring, if it indeed comes to that.
Physioc: I did an American Legion baseball game in North Platte, Neb., in the late '70s with about ten fans. All of a sudden in the third inning all ten of ’em left and so did the players. I looked out of the back of our plywood broadcast booth and saw why. A tornado was coming. It stayed away but we left too.
Santangelo: I played in Montreal for 4 years, so yes. And I have broadcasted games at Marlins Park, so yes. It’s hard to find adrenaline and you have to be your own fan. Lots of coffee.
Jaffe: Only if playing intramural sports in high school and college counts. I can't think of anything worse than watching my high school intramural basketball team (the Cheesemen), which was made up of not-tremendously-athletic honors students whose only redeeming feature was that we threw good elbows. We were mediocre, but nobody wanted to play us.
Voit: Minor leagues at times? haha
Kasper: The closest parallel would be an early, early spring training game with low attendance. Or a late-night regular-season game after a long, cold, brutal rain delay. What happens there is you hear every fan who yells anything. I've never called a game with ZERO fans. It's difficult to call games with few fans as there is no energy in the building.
Davis: Not officially, but there were times in the minors where there wouldn't be more than 50 people in the stands. It's eery even at that level; I can't imagine how eery it would be at the big-league level. Will the players be able to hear us? How odd is it going to be when a guy hits a go-ahead homer in the 8th and we don't have that crescendo of the crowd? More than one player has told me they think we're underestimating how big a deal the lack of fans will be on the game itself. Will guys be able to generate the same kind of adrenaline? How about during the dog days? A lot of guys are unsure of those answers.
Ford: In 2004, I was calling games for the Kalamazoo Kings of the Frontier League. They played a series in Ozark, Mo., against the Springfield/Ozark Ducks, who barely drew 100 people because their stadium was in the middle of nowhere and the community was getting an affiliated minor league team the next year. I remember really cranking up my crowd mic to get any crowd noise, and I felt like I had to talk even more because there was so much silence; there wasn't even much ambient crowd noise to fill in the blanks.
— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) May 14, 2020
Greiner: I don’t believe I have ever played in front of zero fans whatsoever. There were definitely games in the minor leagues where we played in front of very few fans, and it is certainly a weird feeling when you’re used to the buzz of the crowd and the energy of the fans.
Kalas: My first TV job after college was in Clearwater, Fla., and we televised some Florida State League games with very sparse crowds. I’ve also called some SWAC baseball and basketball games with less than 1,500 in the stands. My memory of those games is once you put the headset on, it’s like any other broadcast and you’re locked into the color analyst and producer in your ear. However, in those aforementioned events, there was never an anticipation of big crowds. I believe it will feel dramatically different if we have to call games in an empty Minute Maid Park or other MLB stadiums.
Leyritz: I did a TV broadcast of the Caribbean World Series for the TES Network. We were in Venezuela but had no booth space in the ballparks. So Billy Sample and me, as well as Cookie Rojas and his son Victor, did all the games. We sat in a studio in Lara and watched the games on TV and did color and play-by-play. It was very strange. In the early ’90s also we weren’t very good so there were games that felt like no one was in the stands. LOL.
Shusterman: Played in or officially covered, no, but as a fan of D-III baseball, I can assure you there is plenty of baseball that occurs with minimal fans.
Spaeder: No, but my co-host Holden Kushner covered the April 29, 2015, “no-fan game” in which the Orioles hosted the White Sox, of it he recalls “the noises in the ballpark were so distinct. You could hear every word when players would cheer in the dugout. Sometimes you could hear the bat cutting through the air on a swing. Every word from the umpire was audible. It was bizarre.”
Rogers: Nope, except if you want to count a high school basketball game I once covered with approximately 10 people in attendance.
2. What has been your go-to food option during the quarantine?
Yates: My go-to food option has been anything I can make with my Traeger grill: tri-tip, salmon, ribs, pulled pork. I love to grill.
Davis: This has been the best part of the quarantine for us — the chance to do a lot of home cooking and grilling. You name it — ribs, brisket, whole chickens, pork shoulders, bolognese — we've made it. This is something we always enjoy doing, but especially this time of year (in a normal world), we rarely get to have family meals together. Enjoying the chance to every night.
Greiner: I guess my go-to would be any type of sandwich you can think of: Grilled Cheese, PB&J, Ham/Cheese, etc.
Bean: I made the leap of committing to a plant-based diet in late December 2019. So actually, cooking every meal at home has made it easier to stick to my goals. Our main “go-to” meal is pasta, marinara sauce, and ground seitan. We add sautéed broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, carrots, onions, and garlic. It’s healthy and delicious. We make a lot, and do leftovers over the next day or two. Snacks are a different story … ugh.
Jaffe: It always comes back to pasta, in part because I had a fair bit of leftover sauce in the freezer and because I can always find inspiration to do more without worrying about whether I can get a specific cut of meat during our weekly shopping excursion.
Rogers: Ice cream and wine. Do I really need to explain? (Is that printable?) Editor’s note: Heck yeah!
Santangelo: Anything I can grill. I’ve never cooked this much in my life. It’s usually media dining this time of year every night, which can be good and bad depending on the ballpark. Not gonna get specific. Most parks try; some don’t.
Spaeder: Buffalo chicken. I slow cook about seven pounds at once. It is easy to reheat and very versatile.
Kepner: Nothing too crazy, but my daughters are baking a lot so I'm eating pretty well.
Kasper: Chipotle burritos have hit the spot probably twice a week. I could eat two pizzas every day, but fortunately I have realized that would be a terrible idea.
Sciambi: Trying to stay somewhat not fat.
Dillon T. Pickles: Peanuts and Cracker Jacks, they remind me of baseball and have nothing to do with pickles being eaten.
Ford: My cooking has been the go-to food. I've ordered out some, but have mostly eaten food I've cooked. I've never cooked this much in my life, especially this time of year.
Leyritz: We have been cooking out every day: steak, chicken and fish. Just rotating it day to day. Tri Tip has probably been the go-to.
Shusterman: Honestly don't have a great answer for this one — just trying to enjoy what's around the house until I get a craving for fast food that I can get via drive-thru. Not the most glamorous eating cycle.
3. What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you’re back at the ballpark for the first time?
Kepner: Usually I'm huddled in the work room for opening day at Yankee Stadium, because it's cold and the press box has no windows and I think it's false hustle to sit out there and freeze during the regular season. But at this point the opener is bound to be on a warm-weather day, so I'm hoping just business as usual. I tell you what, though, I plan to watch the games closer than ever and put the laptop screen down more often.
Yates: When I’m back at the ballpark for the first time, I’m looking forward to messing around with my teammates and having a sense of normalcy. Hopefully we’ll get to play in front of fans sooner rather than later. I think once we play in front of fans again we’ll really feel like the pandemic is behind us.
Rogers: Go stand on the field by the dugout railing, watch batting practice and appreciate that feeling like I never have before! Also probably go get a pretzel with cheese because they’re just better at ballparks.
Leyritz: Elbow-bump everyone I see. Our new normal greeting. Lol
Greiner: The first thing I’m going to do is smile, because I think everybody is missing baseball like crazy and ready to be back.
Jaffe: Probably get choked up with emotion as I walk towards the media entrance.
Kasper: Definitely take it all in and be incredibly thankful to be resuming life as I have known it over the past two decades.
Davis: Smile at the sounds — even if that's just the mitt pop and the bat crack echoing through an empty stadium.
Ford: The first thing I will do is say hi to all of the people I've missed. I'll also elbow-bump or hug them, whatever is deemed acceptable.
Bean: I’m going to arrive at the stadium very early, sit in the front row, close my eyes, and listen to the unmistakable sound of Major Leaguers taking batting practice.
Sciambi: Just connect with everyone.
Shusterman: I have no idea but I hopefully don't have to wait much longer to find out!
Santangelo: First thing I’m gonna do is hug everyone I know and hug everyone I don’t know. If anyone has a problem with it, tough. I can’t wait for that day
Spaeder: My girlfriend was born in Iran and has only been in the United States for a little over two years. I look forward to bringing her to a game and sharing my love for the game with her … forcibly if necessary.
4. Have you learned any useful or fun life hacks during the quarantine?
Jaffe: I know how to make hand sanitizer and to turn an old t-shirt into a face mask. I hope that within several months both of those skills are entirely f— obsolete.
Yates: A useful hack I learned during quarantine was when I was making mac and cheese and we realized we didn’t have milk. We Googled how to make mac and cheese without milk and found out that you can use sour cream instead. It ended up tasting pretty good!
Dillon T. Pickles: If you print a picture of a clean sink and put it on top of the dirty dishes, problem solved.
— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) May 14, 2020
Davis: Have perfected some recipes and been able to read fervently. And also embraced disconnecting more frequently, putting my phone away for a couple hours at a time.
Kepner: I don't know if it's that fun, but I'm growing a goatee for the first time in 15 years, and now it's coming in gray! Might be time to shave.
Kasper: Using a winter neck warmer as a make-shift mask.
Ford: I’ve learned I can get in a really good workout at home with minimal-to-no equipment, which is a good thing to remember on days I don't feel like going to the gym.
Bean: I’ve learned how much I love to make a daily check list of tasks. I don’t care how small the task has become, crossing it off the list brings a sense of joy and accomplishment that I value more than ever.
Leyritz: I have learned how to cook vegan brownies and other vegan desserts for my youngest daughter. And they were actually pretty good.
Spaeder: I learned how to make my own dish detergent. … Aside from that, I discovered that my girlfriend has a pretty solid arm. She had never played baseball or even thrown a baseball before the days of social distancing and quarantining, and we have been trying to get out and have a catch — note: have a catch, not play catch — and after she learned that, as a righty, her mitt goes on her left hand, not her right, and to step into her throws, with her left foot, I learned she can throw a little bit. Definitely something we will keep up after all of this — I have been chronicling her efforts on Twitter, which we have enjoyed; she appreciates the support that she has gotten from people, which has been overwhelmingly positive. I laugh at the Twitter coaches trying to correct her mechanics; she laughs at the Twitter jackasses who think she grew up throwing rocks. Here is a clip from our most recent catch. If interested, for the full feed, scroll up.
Greiner: I cannot think of any life hacks I have learned. I have learned to cook and grill some new things, so I have been trying to improve my culinary skills during this quarantine.
Shusterman: Nah, not particularly — I probably should, though! There's still time!