Oberg gets reassurances about playing
DENVER -- Rockies right-handed relief pitcher Scott Oberg understands better than anyone that the aging or the unhealthy don’t have a monopoly on pre-existing conditions. His health challenges gave him extra cause to take COVID-19 seriously.
During his sophomore year at the University of Connecticut, Oberg suffered from psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune disease. For six months, he experienced extreme swelling in his toes. To get dressed in the mornings he had to first move around his apartment, and he needed a cane to walk to classes until he and doctors arrived at the medication that keeps it under control today.
And twice, in 2016 and last August, he had to undergo surgery for blood clots in his throwing arm. Last year’s surgery came after he had taken the closer role from the struggling Wade Davis. He finished the year 6-1 with five saves and a 2.25 ERA. Over the last two seasons, he has averaged 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings, and his Baseball-Reference 211 ERA+ (100 is MLB average) is second-highest, behind the Padres’ Kirby Yates, among MLB relievers with at least 100 innings.
On Saturday, he worked out with a small group at Metropolitan State University of Denver, while most of the team worked at Coors Field on the first day of Rockies Summer Camp. But getting to that point took some reassurance to make sure playing was safe.
“That debate in my mind presented itself,” Oberg said. “I had reached out to my rheumatologist’s office in Philadelphia, and we had a pretty lengthy discussion. It kind of put my mind at ease in terms of the effect that it could have. He didn't really seem to allude to any adverse effects with the situation I'm in if I were to contract the virus itself. He was fairly confident that, being my age group, my activity level, even my blood type, some other outside factors that if I were to contract the virus that I would still be in a good spot.
“It’s a matter of sticking to the protocols that are in place, kind of holding myself to a higher standard.”
Oberg, 30, who said he always wears a mask in public, spent the shutdown at home in Sewell, N.J., with his wife, Diana, a nurse practitioner, and daughter, Charlotte Rose, who turns 2 in August. They were fortunate that their county, Gloucester, which is just outside Philadelphia, was not hit as hard as the rest of New Jersey, but still they had a plan, and they had time together.
“The staying healthy part, at least in terms of staying away from the virus, was fairly easy,” Oberg said. “My thanks to the wife, who went out of her way to really make sure that she took care of everything outside of the house. She did an unbelievable job protecting me, protecting my daughter. I can't say enough about what she has done the last three or four months.
“I was able to get myself a net, get myself some weight-room equipment, and keep everything at the house. I already had a mound at my house from a few years back. I had some land behind one of my neighbors’ house, was able to throw into the net, and was able to get some workouts in. My wife was able to take care of the rest.”
With players in uniform and on the field, the attention turns to baseball. And Oberg believes the Rockies just might use this strange run-up to the season to their advantage.
“It’s nice, actually, and kind of a unique situation in the sense that we actually get to practice in our home ballpark in our home altitude, really, for the first time,” Oberg said. “[After normal Spring Training] in Arizona, we usually start on the road for a week, and then get hit in the face by the altitude a little bit when we come back home. Having these three weeks is actually going to be really beneficial for a pitcher.”