Miami Marlins

Opening Day was supposed to be Thursday. Instead, Marlins and MLB wait for normal to return

In a normal world, Thursday would have been Opening Day for the Miami Marlins and the rest of Major League Baseball. The Marlins would be hosting the Philadelphia Phillies at Marlins Park. Sandy Alcantara most likely would have thrown the first pitch to usher in the third season of the Marlins’ rebuild. When the game ended, fans would meander over to the ballpark’s new Biscayne Bay Brew Hall, the latest enhancement to the stadium over the past two years.

Things are far from normal right now.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has put sports and most aspects of day-to-day life on hold, meaning teams are having to adjust to a new way of life for the foreseeable future.

Games are on hold indefinitely, with mid-May seen as the earliest that teams can resume what would be even a semblance of normal baseball routine and June likely the best-case scenario for the season to start in earnest (although even that seems uncertain). It’s the first time since 1995 that an MLB season did not start as originally scheduled.

Marlins Park is now serving as a drive-thru testing site for people 65 and older with possible symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The Florida National Guard is helping manage logistics at the ballpark, which already has surrounding streets closed and a parking lot marked off with cones for a staging area.

There are more than 54,000 confirmed cases in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including more than 1,600 confirmed cases in Florida alone. Two New York Yankees minor-leagues have tested positive for COVID-19, as has a spring training employee for the Cincinnati Reds.

For all intents and purposes, baseball understandably has become secondary at this point.

“We just wait. We make adjustments,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said at the team’s training complex in Jupiter on March 12, hours before the league halted spring training and put baseball on standby. “This thing’s going to keep changing.”

Unanswered questions

The Marlins were feeling good about where they stood when baseball stopped. They had won 12 of their 18 Grapefruit League games, saw contributions from veterans and prospects alike and had a feeling that they were going to turn the corner after posting a combined 120-203 record during the past two seasons.

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“We’re getting there,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said before play was suspended. “Our expectations are high, especially with the way that we’re playing in spring training. I don’t really care that it’s just spring training. We’re winning games. ... That’s who we are right now.”

But when the season was put on hold two weeks before it even began, it left the Marlins with a slew of questions that, for the time being, will remain unanswered.

Position battles remain unsolved. The Marlins had multiple open spots in their bullpen, their fifth starting pitcher was undecided and at least three position player spots were up for grabs.

The chance to see the team’s top prospects potentially crack the big-league roster will be pushed back to a later date. Nineteen of the club’s top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline were part of the Marlins’ big-league camp this spring. Five — outfielder Monte Harrison (No. 9) and pitchers Nick Neidert (No. 10), Alex Vesia (No. 27), Sterling Sharp (No. 28) and Robert Dugger (No. 30) — were still on the active roster at the time MLB suspended spring training.

Harrison, fellow outfielder Jesus Sanchez (No. 4), shortstop Jazz Chisholm (No. 3), first baseman Lewin Diaz (No. 7), and pitchers Sixto Sanchez (No. 1) and Edward Cabrera (No. 5) were all strong candidates to make their MLB debuts at some point this season. All except Cabrera were added to the organization via trade at some point since the Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter ownership group took over.

There’s also a matter of the logistics that come into play when things do ramp back up. How long will pitchers need to get back to their pitch count? What will the season look like? How many games will be played — and how will that impact a player’s service time?

“We’re taking it day by day,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said.

Passing the time

As teams take it day by day and adjust to the new normal while waiting to find out when — or if — the season is going to begin, players are working out on their own and passing the time however they can.

Sharp, Rojas and infielder prospect Jazz Chisholm are among a host of baseball players using the video game “MLB The Show 20” to fill their baseball void. Sharp held a tournament during the first week that baseball was suspended to raise money for his “Groundouts for Kids” charity.

Infielder prospect Nic Ready posted a video of him on Twitter squatting a hog in Texas to show how he’s keeping in shape.

“No gym? Don’t matter. No food? Don’t matter. Delayed season? Don’t matter,” Ready said between squats.

Vesia created a makeshift bullpen in his home back in California, using a memory foam mattress pad and blankets as his target.

“Find a way!” Vesia tweeted.

Until baseball picks up, everyone is simply trying to find a way.

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