After long layoff, Cards get back to baseball

July 4th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- It’s been 113 days since the Cardinals last played baseball as a team. After their exhibition game on March 12, the coronavirus pandemic shut baseball down, and players scattered to their homes across the country and world. Friday was the first time the team was on the same field doing baseball activities together since then.

With the sun beating down on Busch Stadium, as is typical in July, both bullpens were in use and hitters were cycling through batting practice with no fans in the seats to watch the first official workout of Summer Camp. The music was blaring until players cleared the field and the first live batting practice session began.

Jack Flaherty took the mound, Yadier Molina crouched behind home plate and Dexter Fowler dug into the box. Matt Carpenter took swings in the on-deck circle while other players spaced themselves out in the dugout to watch. After a few minutes, manager Mike Shildt jogged out to center field.

“This is what these guys have been doing since they were [big] enough to pick up a bat and a ball,” Shildt said. “It’s something these guys have been dedicated to, love to do, so they were clearly excited to get back to being in such a wonderful setting here at Busch, being together and get back to baseball.”

The Cardinals plan to have 19 scheduled workouts at Busch Stadium before Opening Day later this month. The first week will be spent assessing where players are in their readiness for the season, and then it will move into intrasquad and simulated games to get the players up to speed and ready for games. On Friday, players went through typical drills, like baserunning and fielding practice, and Flaherty, Austin Gomber and Ryan Helsley threw live batting practice. The workouts were split into two groups: The Major League regulars and the backups, like top prospect Dylan Carlson.

Shildt and players described the tone of the day as excited. It is summer camp, after all.

“This is going to be fun,” Miles Mikolas said. “My major in college was sports and recreation management. So if I need to run a camp, if they need someone to help run this camp, I have a degree, and I’m qualified to use it.”

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak said that players took their second COVID-19 test on Friday. During Summer Camp, the players and the coaching staff will be tested every other day. The Cardinals held their first team meeting before the workouts began, which allowed Shildt and his staff to explain the clubhouse policies and logistics that will look different this summer. For example, the team is utilizing both the home and away clubhouses and weight rooms to maximize the space for the 45 players in camp.

“Clearly, it’s different,” Shildt said. “But as much as we’ve had changes in our society and our environment, which those are pretty clear, there are fundamentals of things that still exist. … How to go about respecting your teammate on and off the field -- little bit different layers to it -- how to get back into competition. … We spoke about competition, how we compete and how we fundamentally play the game. That part still drove through.”

Part of those policies is what the club expects from its players and others in the ballpark when they leave the stadium. Mikolas -- whose family is staying at their home in Florida this season to minimize risk of exposure to his wife and kids -- said that he’s spoken with a few teammates about the responsibility they have to bring baseball to fans. That means acting with caution away from the ballpark: Washing their hands, wearing masks, avoiding crowds.

Small sacrifices, he said, are going to help in the long run.

“I was trying to head to every Waffle House I could this year, and now it looks like, unless they deliver to the hotel, I’m going to have to wait to go on that journey next year. It’s an easy fix. You want to play a season, you want to be healthy, those little tiny things on the road are easily sacrificed I feel like.

“If I’m trying to make eight or nine or 10 starts, however many starts a full season is, if it means wearing a mask and gloves and being extra careful and being tedious at times to make all those starts, that’s what I have to do, and that’s what everybody else should be doing.”