By Rob Rains
On what should have been the Cardinals’ home opening day Thursday, John Mozeliak needed only four words to describe what he thinks will happen with the game this season – “We just don’t know.”
During a 45-minute conference call with reporters, done over Zoom, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations admitted what everybody involved with the game knows is true – a lot of the questions about what is going to happen do not have answers right now.
“It’s an answer I use quite a bit right now,” Mozeliak said. “The uncertainty of what our season and our summer is going to look like is creating a lot of questions for a lot of people but at this point that’s all they are, questions, and we don’t have a lot of answers.
“You could speculate and guess what all the different scenarios may or may not look like but I just don’t think that’s healthy. Right now we’re in an age of trying to understand what information we should listen to or value, and why complicate things?”
Mozeliak said whatever decisions are made regarding when this season will start, of if the season will be canceled, will be guided by what is best for the health and safety of the players, the rest of the people who work in the game and fans.
“You have to weigh that in into any decision that might be being discussed,” Mozeliak said. “Clearly that’s the number one importance for everybody involved.”
Mozeliak said it has been quite an adjustment to not being around the baseball staff and players a week into what should have been the start of the regular season.
“In terms of staying busy and engaged with the topics that everybody has touched on, it has been sort of hectic,” he said. “A lot of people have asked me what I’ve been doing with my free time and I haven’t really had a lot of that yet.
“Life is just different. It’s probably like that for almost everybody on this call. Trying to adjust and adapt to what we now call our new normal is what we really are all trying to do.”
Asked if he thought the season could begin without fans in the stands, Mozeliak said, “I could envision a lot of different scenarios … Our industry, like so many others, is not in a great state, meaning when you don’t have the gates open, when you are not playing baseball, it’s not normal. In terms of how we can get ourselves back to as close to normal as possible, it’s something everybody is trying to think through and understand.”
Mozeliak is in agreement with those who believe baseball could help the country, and the world, begin the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the time has to be right to begin playing again.
“When I am out walking, and run into people, I get the sense that they would like to see anything,” he said. “Whatever they are watching on TV I guess they are getting a little bored of. Having some sort of live sports that gives them hope or something to cheer for seems like it would be helpful to our country.
“Giving some hope to people that seem to need it would make a lot of sense … some reasons to turn on their TV. From a very high level that’s something everybody should be thinking about.”
The return of baseball, he said, will have to be weighed with the fine line of what is happening in the world, Mozeliak said.
“I think it’s going to be a huge part of our healing process,” he said. “Creating that hope is what baseball and other sports have done forever. … We’re giving people that faith in something. That’s something all of us who are involved in the game hope we can be a part of that process.”
Mozeliak said he is trying to stay connected with as many employees as possibly with the Cardinals, knowing there is “fear and uncertainty” about the future.
The Cardinals, like all teams, have committed to paying their full-time employees through the end of April but are waiting until they know more about the future of the season before going beyond that.
“It’s something that we’re looking at,” he said. “We’re trying to understand what the landscape is going to look like.”
That is true not only about the front-office employees but the minor league staff, Mozeliak said.
“Everything is in such a volatile state,” he said. “It’s hard to make assumptions until we have a little more clarity.”
One of the options Mozeliak has had to consider is the possible cancellation of the 2020 season.
“Right now our intention is to play as many games as possible,” he said. “Our fingers are crossed. You don’t want to press too much on the optimistic button, but there still is a lot of hope that something can be resolved. In terms of internal strategy, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t understanding what all different scenarios might look like.”
Some of that confusion and uncertainty has been created by the fact that so much is still unknown about the coronavirus, having nothing to do with baseball.
“It’s hard to guess where this is going to end up,” he said.
Mozeliak said he is aware that one Cardinals employee tested positive for coronavirus, but for privacy reasons would not say anything else other than that the employee was feeling better. This is in addition to former player and broadcaster Jim Edmonds posting on social media that he had tested positive, but also was feeling better.
Only a couple of players are left in Jupiter, Mozeliak said, and they are allowed to come into the team’s facility for medical treatment on a very restricted one-on-one schedule.
Korean pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim has left Florida and is now in St. Louis, Mozeliak said, and there have been discussions about him possibly returning home to South Korea to visit his family but no decision has been made – partially because of the uncertainty of what will happen in the coming weeks and months.
“I can only imagine the mental challenge he is under,” Mozeliak said. “There is the risk of the borders being shut down and travel could be limited. We are trying to navigate that as best we can but clearly this has not been easy for him.”
As far as the rest of the players, Mozeliak said the team is trying to stay connected as much as possible, encouraging the players to continue working out and staying in shape for whenever a decision about playing games is made.
The earliest it appears the games could resume is June, with July a more likely timetable. Mozeliak said he has told pitchers to consider their new training schedule for April as if it were mid-January in a normal year.
“That’s the trickiest part of all,” he said. “We just don’t know when we are going to start.”
When the minor-league camp was closed, 17 players from Venezuela were sent to the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic in what was expected to be a short-term solution, but they are still there.
Whether it’s those players, or those on the major-league roster, Mozeliak knows they share one common opinion – they want to be back on the field playing as soon as it is reasonable to do so from a health and safety standpoint.
“Everybody wants to be playing baseball right now,” Mozeliak said. “Baseball players play baseball. No one is getting that opportunity. … Those days aren’t here. … It is what it is. Mentally that’s a big test for a lot of players. They wish they were doing what they are supposed to be doing – playing baseball.”
That is true among everybody associated with the game at all levels, he said.
“What we usually do, what we consider normal, we’re not doing,” Mozeliak said. “That’s the part about adapting and adjusting that’s so critical for everybody … We don’t know what the future will bring.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains