Three Major League Baseball players with local roots didn’t spend the scheduled Opening Day on March 26 how they planned.
Instead of feeling any excitement or having the chance to step out onto the field in front of a roaring crowd, Matt Strahm, Erik Swanson and Andy Young were only able to celebrate the sport and some of its best moments on TV or through social media.
With the MLB suspended at least into May due to the coronavirus pandemic, Strahm, Swanson and Young are sitting and waiting as their seasons are on pause.
“My parents were planning to fly out for Opening Day and do all that,” said Strahm, a San Diego Padres pitcher and 2010 West Fargo High School graduate. “They canceled their flights and I said, ‘Well, we’ll figure it out later.’”
The pro baseball players are making the most of the situation. Like many Americans, the moment feels surreal.
“I’ve said this to my wife (Megan) a couple times — I feel like I’m in a movie, just waiting for what’s coming next and not knowing,” Strahm said. “I’m a big schedule guy. I love to have a schedule, I love to follow my schedule. This is driving me up the wall not knowing what my schedule is going to be.”
The league was initially suspended for at least four weeks on March 12, moving Opening Day to April 9, and was pushed back a second time until the middle of May, which has become an optimistic outlook at this point.
“Up until yesterday, we were told mid-May was our start date,” Strahm said. “About four days ago, we all kind of knew that wasn’t very realistic. Again, wait and see. None of us have experienced something like this. Looking to each other to keep each other ready I guess is what we’re doing.”
Swanson, a Seattle Mariners pitcher, packed up his vehicle with his wife, Madison, and their infant son last week for a three-day drive from Arizona, where he was stationed for Spring Training, to their north Fargo home. Madison is from Roseau, Minn., and Swanson lived in Fargo until he was 5 years old before his family moved out east.
“We have a 2-month-old son and we did not want to be stuck in Phoenix if this thing got any worse,” Swanson said.
In an effort to simply get out of the house Monday, the Swansons put their son in his car seat and hopped in his pickup truck to drive around Fargo for a bit.
“I feel like we’re in some sort of movie the way all this is playing out,” he said. “It’s something I didn’t ever see coming, having a 2-month-old son, staying cooped up in the house and not being able to do anything. But it’s what we gotta do, the cards we were dealt.”
If things had went as planned, Swanson's team would’ve headed to Seattle earlier this week to move into their houses or apartments. Instead, he and his wife had to call and cancel their Airbnb from Fargo. Swanson still has to earn a spot on the 25-man roster.
“Me as a baseball player going through my own trials right now, I’m figuring out what’s going to happen with me,” Swanson said. “I know there's millions of other people in this world who are trying to figure out the exact same thing. I know I’m not alone in that.”
Strahm and fellow West Fargo graduate Young, an Arizona Diamondbacks prospect, are riding out the situation in Arizona — Strahm in Phoenix where he and his wife have a house and Young in Chandler.
“Right now, we would probably be getting toward the end of Spring Training,” Young said Tuesday. “We’d be getting really serious about where we’d be going. I think at that point, you're kind of narrowing down who's on the team and where you're going.”
Young was put on the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster in November, which allowed him to stay and workout at Chase Field, the home to the Diamondbacks. He's still trying to stay in midseason form as much as he can.
“I know a lot of people are going home and they’re finding the struggles of they don’t know exactly where to workout because a lot of stuff is closed,” he said. “Fortunately that’s not my situation yet. I’m gonna try and work out as much as I can and when this is resolved, I'll be ready to go back and play again.”
Before the suspension, Young played in 14 straight games this spring, cracking seven hits, including a home run, in 20 at-bats.
“It can be kind of frustrating. But also, it’s the same for everyone,” Young said. “I think you have to think about the health of everyone first, obviously, and that's where you step back from the sport and realize that everyone needs to be safe and healthy to enjoy these games, or there’s really no point in playing.”
Strahm, who threw in about four to five spring training games, ended the 2019 season with a 6-11 record, appearing in 46 games. He tallied a 4.71 ERA and 1.25 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched).
“As an athlete, you try and balance how to stay as close to ready as possible without overdoing it, putting out that risk for injury,” Strahm said.
The three are doing their best to stay in shape for when the league resumes.
Swanson’s original plan was to stay in Arizona to workout. Now in Fargo, his training has shifted, but he’s making it work.
Swanson’s strength and conditioning coach from the Mariners is putting together a workout program for him. In the meantime, he’s done resistance-band work and the first full day he was home, Swanson went to Scheels and picked up a NordicTrack exercise bike, which has come in handy for the bullpen guy, he said. He’s also trying to figure out a way to throw on net somewhere — in the house or garage — if need be.
Strahm’s brother lives with him in Arizona, so he always has someone to play catch with in his backyard, which has also become his new workout spot.
“It’s crazy. Usually we’re a world that wants answers, and when we don’t have them, we usually go to our phone to get them and we can’t get any answers on any of this,” Strahm said.
After seeing other leagues’ seasons being put on hold, the players could sense the direction their seasons would be going. Still, Young said it happened really fast.