Simon Rosenblum-Larson | Madison, WI
On March 13th I woke up early. I’m always nervous on the first game day of the year, but this one was a little different. I got a text the night before from our farm director. Instead of pitching on a backfield with a pond full of alligators just past the chain link left field fence, I’d be riding the bus with the big-league club for a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox. Getting a chance to put on a Major League uniform—even just in spring training, even just as a backup—is something I’ve dreamed of since I was playing catch with my dad in our local Madison park. Leaning over and checking my phone, I saw another text message: ‘MLB has suspended operations effective immediately. All clubs are directed to suspend their spring trainings.’
I had to leave Florida, but I wasn’t sure where to go. There was some talk that locker rooms might be a super-spreader, and I was worried that I had already been exposed. My dad cares for my 94-year-old grandma, so he couldn’t take me in because of the risk to her. I had spent the winter living on my college roommate’s couch, but I couldn’t go back there since he’s immunocompromised. My aunt and uncle in Madison invited me to stay with them, so I holed up in their guestroom for the next 14 days, trying to avoid infecting them with anything I might’ve picked up on my travels.
No one knows when we might end up back on the ballfield, so I have to be creative to stay in shape. For my arm, all I needed was a bucket of balls and a fence. One of my high school friends gave me a big bucket of torn-up old batting practice balls. For weightlifting equipment, at first, I taped a broomstick to use as a barbell and filled two old cat litter containers with sand for weights. While that served as a temporary fix, I needed some more consistent (and safer) options. My uncle had a bunch of 2x4s lying around and mentioned we could turn one of the basement walls into a home gym. My cousin and I built a fully adjustable squat rack in about four days. An old baseball coach left me a barbell and weights on his front porch, with Lysol wipes to sanitize them, of course.
I have faced a crisis of meaning since this all started. The world is full of essential workers, and baseball feels like a luxury we can live without. What did I drop everything for, anyway? I was looking for some inspirational reading, and this quote stuck with me: ‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.’ Baseball might not be essential, but the world sure as hell could use it right now.
None of us are paid for spring training, because the law says it’s a tryout. Instead we get housing, two meals a day, and $15 for dinner. Nearly half of the 7,000+ minor leaguers are from Latin America. Many of these guys support two, four, six other family members on their baseball paychecks. If this was a normal season, we would start getting paid after April 9, minor league opening day. But nothing about this season is normal.
Quarantine was initially spent gathering information from all 30 teams to see what their plans were for their players. Once we found out that none were getting any pay from their teams, we circulated a petition. Minor league players are among the most self-sufficient, independent, and hardheaded guys on the earth, but 500 signed on and asked for help. Players started coming to us looking for help with groceries, with training equipment, and paying their rent. Many players were in pretty tough spots.
About a week later, Major League Baseball announced they would provide a stipend to all minor league players. We kept pushing. We raised nearly $8,000 and gave it away to 113 minor leaguers for their groceries. We scored our first big donation from a big leaguer, a St. Louis Cardinal named Adam Wainwright. He gave $250,000 to distribute to Cardinals minor leaguers. Then $100,000 dollars came in from Colorado Rockies star Daniel Murphy, to distribute to players who need it league-wide.
Things have calmed into a routine. I work 8-hour days with the nonprofit and spend 3 hours a day on baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays check up on me twice a week asking the four questions, almost like Passover. ‘How are you feeling? How much do you weigh? How many times a week are you throwing? How far are you throwing?’ I’m trying to enjoy this downtime, since it’s rare for me to get any at this time of year. But looking around, I see a whole bunch of people torn away from things they love. Sports might not be essential, but they do feel irreplaceable.
-Simon Rosenblum-Larson | Madison, WI
Simon’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Covid-19 series. Through this series we are featuring shorter stories to offer a time capsule into life in Wisconsin during this extraordinary time.