TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras has been in pro baseball since 2005 and has been a manager in the minor leagues since 2015. Despite his experience, he still gets butterflies on Opening Day.
“I've been through quite a few Opening Days now,” Contreras, 36, said Monday during a virtual press conference from his home in Arizona. “We try to get (the players) into a rhythm as fast as possible. Obviously there's anticipation. There's butterflies. I still get the butterflies on Opening Day just because it's a new scene. It's new faces, it's a new team, it's a new staff.
“The expectations are really high at the beginning of the year so you want to get these guys rolling as quick as possible, get their feet wet, especially for the guys who have never played an Opening Day in April.”
None of that is happening this year as COVID-19 has forced Minor League Baseball to delay the start of the season until at least the end of April and likely longer than that. Contreras' fifth year as the manager in Fort Wayne will have to wait. How long it might be until baseball can be played in the Summit City remains an unknown, even to TinCaps president Mike Nutter.
“I'm not in the prediction business,” said Nutter, who was also on the virtual conference. “I think we're going to have to find either a vaccine or more frequent testing or something like that before people are going to be able to get back to sporting events. ... I think there's still hope ... but that's a long-winded way of saying we don't know.”
“I could not see a model where (games without fans) happen in the minor leagues,” Nutter added. “The TV revenues drive the major league sports and salaries so much, where in our case, we need to sell tickets and the beers and the hot dogs.”
On March 13, the day that spring training was suspended and the players told to return home if possible, Contreras was at the Padres' facility in Peoria, Arizona.
The news shocked him.
“It was probably one of the craziest scenes when I walked into the clubhouse that day,” said Contreras, who is working four days a week with small group of infielders who remained near the facility. “Everybody was, like, almost mourning a little bit. You could see everybody's faces. They didn't know what to think. ... Fortunately for me, I was able to be one of the coaches that were selected to stay out there to keep working with these guys and keep them fresh.”
Spring training was suspended early enough that rosters for minor-league teams were a long way from being finalized. Contreras said he has “an idea” of some of the players he will be managing in Fort Wayne this season, but there were still a lot of unknowns that would have been sorted out in the 21/2 weeks before the newly minted TinCaps departed for Indiana.
Contreras, Fort Wayne's all-time wins leader, estimated that, when it does become possible for the season to resume, the players will need a few weeks to get back into shape before actual games can be played safely.
“I think it all comes down to pitching more than anything,” he said. “We have to make sure those guys are built up and ready to go. You don't want to rush the situation and then you put these kids in a position to possibly get hurt. ... There's guys out there that are throwing bullpens and doing their same routines to stay fresh. If I were to guess, and it would be my opinion, I would say at least three weeks to get these guys rocking and rolling.”