Picture this: During the lockdown, Tony Wolters and a group of Rockies pitchers kept throwing in various Arizona parks, at times using a homemade wooden mound, cleaning it and carrying it from park to park in the back of someone’s truck.
Such is baseball during a pandemic.
In a Saturday media availability, Wolters discussed how the Rockies pitchers kept working as they waited for baseball to sort itself out; he also addressed his own safety concerns headed into the 2020 season. (Wolters removed a blue surgical mask as he sat down to talk with reporters via Zoom.)
Working together as a team
Just because baseball took a pause did not mean the Rockies pitchers did.
“A lot of us were in Arizona,” Wolters said, “and we had small groups of two and three guys that would go to a park and keep six feet of distance between each other, and there were probably three or four groups in Arizona that were working together.” At the same time, a similar group was working in Denver.
Included in the Arizona group were eight to ten pitchers, including Jon Gray, James Pazos, Wade Davis, Yency Almonte, and Germán Márquez. “It was good knowing we had each other miles away,” Wolters said.
The experience also kept everyone in shape while improving team chemistry.
Wolters found himself organizing his days around working with the pitchers. “As a catcher, I’m pretty used to that,” he said. But he did this while keeping himself healthy. “I was trying to be very smart on who I could catch and keep my circle as small as possible,” he said, adding, “I feel like we had a good thing going in Arizona with the groups we had.”
The group did not have a regular practice spot. Rather, they moved to various area parks.
“Darrell Scott built this awesome wood mound that we were throwing from truck to truck,” Wolters said. He also kept reminding his teammates about the importance of safety: “Make sure you clean the mound off. Make sure you sanitize this. We’ll meet here.” The plans usually came together at the last minute.
For Wolters, it was key that the players to stay together and support each other during an unprecedented time.
“We’re a family,” Wolters said, “and we stick together.”
Accepting the reality of COVID-19
Wolters is keenly aware of the statistics marking COVID-19 infection and mortality rates as well as the general lack of knowledge surrounding the potential long-term effects of the virus.
“It’s kind of scary,” Wolters said. “You don’t want to get it. You want your family and friends to be safe from it.”
He added, “When I heard Charlie got it, and I heard a couple of other guys got it, I was sad for them.” Wolters continued, “I don’t know how it’s going to impact them with their health, but I hope they get healthy as soon as possible so that they’re able to play this game that they love. I know that it hit them hard, too.”
Finding ways to stay safe
Wolters is confident about the safety protocols MLB and the Rockies have put in place.
As Wolters put it, “The Rockies and MLB did a great job with keeping us informed and making sure we were safe and following the protocols of staying in your house, ordering everything to your house, not going outside, wearing your mask. They were really good at keeping us safe and our families safe.”
Wolters said that the Rockies have held multiple meetings about safety and the team’s approach, given that the healthiest teams will probably see more success in this shortened season.
That said, Wolters recognizes that as a catcher, he is in a uniquely vulnerable position, given his proximity to the hitter and the umpire as well as his need to communicate with the pitcher. He will also have more contact with the baseball.
“I’ve been testing out different masks that I could wear under my helmet,” Wolters said. “I don’t want to get the virus. I don’t want to give my family the virus. I’m going to do my personal best to try to not get the virus.”
Wolters’ mood is positive as the Rockies move closer to playing baseball again.
“The cool thing is the whole team, the guys in Arizona, the guys in California were communicating, ‘Hey, let’s go. This is the time to keep going and keep getting better.’” He added, “No one took any time off from our team, that’s for sure.”
(Read Scott Oberg’s comments on starting the 2020 season here.)