By Rob Rains
Trying to keep the kids from raiding the kitchen pantry. Painting the trim on the house. Going to the archery range. Checking Google for help with grade-school math assignments. Spending time with a wife he normally doesn’t see much this time of year.
Those are just some of the ways people within the Cardinals organization, from St. Louis to Florida and Memphis to Peoria, are staying busy during the absence of baseball at a time when it is usually the foremost thing on their mind.
To try to get a snapshot of how the baseball shutdown is affecting people at different levels of the organization, STLSportsPage.com reached out to a veteran player, a young prospect, a broadcaster, a manager and a minor-league GM to find the answers. Here are their stories:
Wainwright has had long stretches when he was unable to pitch before, but those were the result of injuries – Tommy John surgery and a torn Achillies. This time away from the game is different.
“I don’t know if you can compare this to any other thing ever from my standpoint,” Wainwright said. “When I was hurt I had a schedule and rehab; a protocol and expected timelines. With this, nobody knows when it is going to be over. Everybody thinks they’ve got a pretty good idea but nobody really knows. … It’s just kind of a wait-and-see type thing.
“With injuries, you’re not playing but your teammates are playing and you’ve got something to watch and keep you interested.”
Most of Wainwright’s daily activities since baseball shut down a month ago center around his wife Jenny and their five children.
“It does seem like a long time since we’ve been out on the field playing,” he said. “The time is still going pretty quickly for us. We never have a dull moment in a house with five kids. We’re making the most of it.”
Last week the Wainwright’s let their four girls each pick what the family would have for dinner one night. Some of the choices were hot dogs, hamburgers and make your own pizza. When it was Wainwright’s turn to select the menu, he chose sweet potato tacos.
With the girls ranging in age from 13 to 4, trying to watch what they eat has been one of Wainwright’s daily challenges.
“Managing our pantry is a big one,” he said. “When you are inside for all day long for some reason you just want to eat. We’ve had to really pay attention about what these girls are eating because they want to eat all day long. Jenny read me something funny about somebody giving them a mask to wear inside instead of outside to keep them from eating.”
Trying to keep the house clean and making certain the older girls are keeping up with their schoolwork also is keeping the Wainwright’s busy, as is caring for their son Caleb, who turned 1 in February.
“The girls have remote zoom meetings with their teachers so they are able to follow the same curriculum as the kids at home (in Georgia),” he said. “One thing we have realized through this process is that teachers are so important in our communities. Those guys need to be making more money.”
Wainwright also is finding time to work out and run, as well as playing catch five times a week with fellow pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim, who is still in St. Louis, thousands of miles away from his wife and two children in South Korea.
For someone such as Wainwright who is so dedicated to his family, watching what Kim is going through because of the separation has been difficult.
“It’s hard for him,” Wainwright said. “He is waiting to hear when we are going to start up so he will know what he needs to do. I think he’s starting to get the itch that he wants to be with his family.”
It’s that family bond that makes Wainwright skeptical about at least one of the ideas which has been discussed about how to bring baseball back – putting all of the teams in Arizona and having them isolated inside a bubble between a hotel and a ballpark.
“That doesn’t seem feasible to me,” he said. “Being away from family for an extended period of time doesn’t sound like it would be our first option that’s for sure. For families, especially for a guy like me with so many kids, that puts a huge strain on my wife and also on the kids when I am gone, even when it’s just a week.
“My wife doesn’t get any grownup conversation and now she’s not even able to be with her friends. Every now and then she just needs somebody to hold the baby for her. If I was going to be away for months that would be a really tough thing.”
Wainwright remains optimistic, however, that another plan will be developed that will allow him and his teammates to get back on the field at some point without having to cancel the complete season.
“I’m going to stay optimistic; I seem to operate better under a positive thought process,” he said. “I’m hoping we will get out there to play. We’re staying ready. It’s kind of like we’re in January, that’s how we are treating this whole process.”
On a recent day when Wainwright could not get outside, and wanting to get his girls some exercise, Jenny remembered how as a young girl she watched a video tape with her grandmother of Richard Simmons “Sweating to the Oldies.” She found it. (See photo at top of page)
“That day it was cold and rainy outside,” Wainwright said. “We didn’t want to let them just lay on the couch all day long.”
When he was sidelined in 2011, Wainwright took up gardening. In 2015, he learned how to play the guitar.
“I spend a fair amount of time every day in the garden still and just about every day I am on the guitar too,” he said. “Those were good things that came out of it.
“We’re going to find something the same way now – something good will come out of this. There will be incredible businesses that start up or there are going to be great ideas or innovations about the way to do things better. We will see.”
The voice of the Triple A Memphis Redbirds, this was going to be Selby’s 35th season broadcasting minor league games. Now he is getting his baseball fix by catching some of the re-broadcasts of old games, concentrating on listening to the announcers he followed when he was just getting started in the business.
“I’m just sitting home like everybody else in our position is doing right now,” Selby said. “It’s different.”
As are many minor-league broadcasters, Selby is an independent contractor – meaning he gets paid when he broadcasts a game. When there are no games, he does not get paid.
“We’re looking at bit of a challenge,” he said.
Selby has been around long enough to understand that nothing will happen with minor-league baseball until the major leagues determine how they are going to proceed.
“It just has such a weird feel to it,” he said. “We’re dealing with an issue that you can’t see. It’s changed our lifestyle an awful lot. It’s bigger than the game, obviously.”
Selby, who has broadcast more than 4,500 games in his career, knows how important playing games is to the financial survival of minor-league franchises, which have to rely on the ticket revenue since most teams do not bring in much money through television contracts.
If the shut down lasts a long time, perhaps canceling the season, Selby is worried that some teams might go bankrupt.
“Obviously the minors have to wait on the major leagues to see what they are going to try to do,” Selby said. “I haven’t seen anything that tells me baseball at the major-league level is happening yet, so we don’t know what we are going to do.”
Selby has had to get through previous storms in his career – literally.
When he was broadcasting the Durham Bulls games on television in the late 1980s, he was on the field shortly before the game preparing to tape a standup with his broadcast partner.
“One of the team employees came running down out of the front office and said, ‘Steve you need to call your wife. A tornado just hit your apartment complex.’ I dropped the mic, told my partner he was on his own and took off.
“I couldn’t get to the apartments because trees were down blocking the road but when I got there I found out we had a limb through our living room wall but everybody was OK. That was a pretty serious attention getter.”
Two years ago, Selby was broadcasting a game in Des Moines, Iowa when a major storm hit, flooding the downtown area.
“We watched the storms coming at us,” he said. “It hit, and downtown was flooded. The team hotel is a five-minute walk from the ballpark normally. I was able to get a ride with the Iowa announcer, Dean Ellis, but Stubby (Clapp) and the players couldn’t get a ride and ended up slogging through a foot or two of water to get back to the hotel.”
Selby doesn’t want a repeat of either of those experiences, but he is ready to get back in the booth and broadcast more games.
“My wife Rhonda is working from home,” he said. “Usually this time of year we don’t see much of each other. … I am still trying to think about baseball on a fairly consistent basis. … We had time to get ready for this (the shutdown). We knew it was coming. I’m prepped for the season, but I think we are a long way from that. … It’s the great unknown.”
When the spring training camp closed and players left Florida, Gorman spent a week in Montana visiting his girlfriend before returning to his home in Phoenix.
Since then, he has been back living in his parents’ house, and, the 19-year-old prospect noted, trying to find things to do each day.
“I’ve painted; I changed my room around,” Gorman said. “There’s little things around the house to do. It’s tough because you can’t work out and hit all day. It’s been pretty boring.”
Gorman said he believes he is more fortunate than some players in his position because he was able to set up a small gym with weights in the garage, and he has access to a couple of batting cages where he can hit.
“It’s kind of like Groundhog Day,” he said. “I try to get outdoors. I hate being cooped up in a house. I’ve spent pretty much my whole life outdoors and I try to get out and not sit around. It’s tough for me to sit in one spot.
“I know some guys can play video games all day but I just can’t sit there long enough. I don’t have the attention span and the willpower to play video games for that long.”
The nearby archery range has remained open so Gorman can go there and shoot his bow when he needs to take a break from lifting weights or hitting.
Gorman said he has spoken with a couple of coaches who have advised him, as Wainwright noted, to approach this period of time like it’s January and he is getting ready for the start of spring training. What makes that hard is that there isn’t a date he can circle on the calendar when he knows he will be on his way back to Florida.
This was set to be an important year for Gorman, who likely was headed to Double A Springfield. A big season for the third baseman could have elevated him into a spot where next spring he might have been fighting for a promotion to the major leagues.
Losing this season, however, could change that timetable, but Gorman is not thinking like that yet.
“It can still happen whenever the season starts,” he said. “I’m staying ready. Spring training went well and there were some things from the off-season that translated into games. Honestly I’m just trying to stay ready for whatever happens.
“It’s not up to the players or baseball really; it’s the whole country right now. I know a lot of guys who are struggling getting workouts in. Maybe they live in an apartment and don’t have a facility to go to or they aren’t able to set up workout equipment. I’ve been fortunate there.”
Gorman also has enjoyed spending the extra time with his family, one of the benefits of not playing baseball right now.
“We’ve had a couple of birthdays in my family in April,” he said. “When my niece turned 10 we did a drive by her house with stuff written on our windows for her. It’s a weird thing to do for a birthday party for a 10-year-old but I think she liked it.”
Gorman has his own birthday coming up in May.
“I don’t know if I’m expecting any drive-bys,” he said. “Hopefully we are playing by then.”
It’s been 19 years since Bilardello has been home at this time of the year and, yes, it is a strange feeling.
A manager in the Cardinals’ farm system since 2010, Bilardello has been managing the Palm Beach Cardinals since 2017, keeping him on the other side of Florida from his home in Naples.
“I’ve been able to do some things I probably wouldn’t have done until next year or who knows?” Bilardello said. “I painted all the trim on the house. I redid the screen on the porch that had come loose. I’ve learned things I didn’t think I was able to learn.”
Bilardello’s property includes a barn, where his girlfriend keeps a couple of horses.
“There’s always a fence post or two to fix,” he said. “I’ve just been kind of doing odds and ends. … I have said that once this is all over everybody’s house is going to look great.”
There was a gap of several years between the end of his playing career and when Bilardello got back in the game as a manager, so he has been home in April before – but in those days, he had another job to keep him busy.
Now, like others in the minor leagues, as he works around the house he is trying to stay optimistic that the major leaguers will get back to playing as soon as possible in order to let the minor leaguers return to work too, at least in some form.
“I’m probably more optimistic than most people you will talk to,” he said. “I kind of look at things with a broader spectrum than most, I think. I see how far we’ve come in three weeks or so … Like everybody else we are just yearning for something.
“There are a lot of people involved who would like to get back to work. I’m hoping the minor leagues can kind of filter into the discussion.”
Bilardello’s job as a manager now consists of helping develop prospects, and those are the people he thinks would be most affected if the entire season was to be canceled because of the coronavirus.
“I can’t imagine them not playing and doing nothing all year,” he said. “They would lose a lot of training and getting better. It would affect the players.
“At some point you can’t stay in the bubble. You have to get out there… It is going to change things; it’s not going to be perfect. That’s just the nature of our world. … Look at how things changed after 9-11. We will get used to it.”
One of the scenarios floated about bringing baseball back has the teams returning to their spring training camps and playing a modified schedule for this season, with no fans. Bilardello knows it is hot in Jupiter in the summer, but he thinks that plan could work.
“It’s hot everywhere; it’s hot in St. Louis,” Bilardello said. “You deal with it. I don’t think we should be scared about playing in the heat.”
Mott has been juggling a hectic schedule for the last month, fulfilling his normal work as the general manager for the Peoria Chiefs as well as serving as a substitute home-school teacher for his eight and five-year-old sons.
“You just say a few prayers every day that we will get some good news sooner rather than later,” Mott said. “It would be great to just know. The waiting game is the hardest part.”
Mott said the Chiefs have been able to keep all but one of their full-time employees working despite the shutdown, plus nine interns. “The only person we stopped was an assistant groundskeeper,” he said.
The 14-person staff has been working from home since March 20 performing tasks like redoing the promotions schedule, pushing dates back farther into the summer, and staying in touch with sponsors and season-ticket holders. The team has been active on social media, trying to offer some creative posts to try to make up some of what sponsors are losing when games aren’t played.
“We have a couple of people going to the ballpark like four days a week for a few hours because we are still working on getting the ballpark ready and on projects,” Mott said. “I go in two or three days a week for probably half a day.
“We are going to do everything we can to keep everybody on board. We have interns that showed up in January or February and moved from Texas and Pennsylvania and I was going to have a tough time telling somebody who just moved here from hours away that we had to let them go.”
To get his baseball fix, Mott bought a Playstation 4.
“I’m playing the Road to the Show,” he said. “I made myself a player and got drafted in the 15th round by the Marlins. Now I’m working my way through the minors.”
When he is not at the ballpark, Mott is at home with his kids while his wife is still working full time. Math has been the hardest subject he has had to teach.
“Google was my friend last week,” he said.
Mott also has to be a parent as well as a teacher, filling both of those roles in addition to his day job, which has led to a lot of long days.
“I tell my staff I will get back to you as quick as I can,” Mott said. “If you are waiting on me keep moving forward and I will get back to you. There are a lot of 12 and 14-hour days playing catchup.
“Every day I put together a school schedule for the kids with a time frame about what we are going to do; when their breaks and snacks and lunch are … trying to keep them in a routine.”
Mott is doing that at a time when everything that was routine about his job is not the same.
“You try to talk to the kids about why they can go outside and see their classmates and friends and can say hi from across the street … but do they understand why they can’t play with them?” he said.
“You don’t really know what’s true. Everybody’s got their own opinion, but you really don’t know what’s right or wrong. Does anybody really know?”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains