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“Away From Family” Concern May Be Slightly Overblown

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“We are family...I got all my sisters and me...”
Photo by Focus On Sport/Getty Images

From the headline you might conclude that I value baseball over family, but that is not the case. I mean I may value it over MY family, but if you knew my Aunt Bertha and my Uncle Perv you’d understand. Without a doubt, in general family is paramount and so it is no surprise that as “return to baseball” scenarios are pondered one of the biggest obstacles suggested by players is the need to be separated from family in a sequestered existence.

My point today is not to suggest that it is “no big deal” to miss out on family time for the good of the game. My point is that the realistic scenarios for a baseball season in, say, “all Arizona all the time” do not require quite as much sacrifice as might meet the eye.

To illustrate this, I have gotten out my A’s schedule that has been collecting dust and tears. Let’s imagine that COVID-19 had never hit and establish a baseline for what the season normally looks like for players in the season’s “first half” up to the All-Star break. Later, I will explain why my calculations only go through the All-Star break.

How It Was Going To Be Up Through the All-Star Break

For 2 more weeks players were planning on training in Arizona or Florida, before embarking on a regular season in which they lived in the vicinity of their home town. In some cases, family had moved to live in daddy’s home town and in other cases family remained “rooted in Podunk” as daddy packed his briefcase to embark on the sports rendition of the traveling salesman. If you were Marcus Semien or Stephen Piscotty, you were blessed to have your family nearby when you were home, but if you were Matt Olson (Atlanta?) or Jed Lowrie (Houston) you were not.

April, May, June, and the first half of July, held promise for homestands and road trips of roughly “one week home, one week away”. In the case of the A’s schedule, their longest homestand in April-July was 10 days, their shortest 6 days, their longest road trip 9 days, shortest 6.

Overall, from mid-March until the All-Star break, here’s what a player had on the horizon until the corona virus interfered:

2 more weeks in Arizona/Florida
8 weeks in the player’s home town
8 weeks on the road

What that means for a Semien is 8 weeks with family in Oakland, 10 weeks on the road, and then it’s on to the post All-Star break season. What it means for an Olson is 16 weeks separated from his family’s home town, looking forward to that “someday trip” to Atlanta, with 8 of those weeks open for family to possibly come to Oakland for a visit — likely about a 7-10 day reunion once or twice in that 3.5 month stretch.

Bottom line: mid-March through mid-July was not looking overly full of “family time” for anyone, but at least for players whose families lived at “home” they were getting about 8 weeks.

How It Would Be, v.COVID-19

So now let’s look at how things would shake down in the “brave new world” we are hoping to embrace. Taking the very, very most optimistic view, you would see players report to Arizona for the last 2 weeks of May to begin the process of sequestering, testing, resuming and completing spring training, and then starting the season absent fans or family.

What is easily overlooked is in this model where players report to camp at the earliest conceivable date of mid-May, because everyone was sent home mid-March the calculations begin with 8 weeks at home with family. I’m talking about the stretch we’re halfway through right now, in which players who were supposed to be on a road trip, or recently back from a road trip, or about to embark on a road trip, are home with their families all the time.

So by the time players were to report to camp mid-May they would have completed a full 8 weeks with family — which is the exact amount of “family time” that the very most fortunate players, the ones whose families live in their home town, would have been planning to enjoy from mid-March all the way to the All-Star break.

And if players were to report later than mid-May, which is a far more likely scenario, those 8 weeks of family time they are currently enjoying becomes 9, 10, 11...

Meanwhile, for players whose families did not move with them to their home town, these 8+ weeks currently being spent with families is a veritable bonanza over the 0-2 weeks they might have hoped for during this 4 month stretch. Bottom line: from mid-March through mid-July, 2020 the very least time players will get with their families (8 weeks) is the very most that any player could have planned on during a normal first half of the season. And for most, the amount of family time will be far, far more than they were expecting.

Post All-Star Break

What I think we’ve established is that from mid-March through mid-July players who would have had 0-8 weeks with family before the All-Star break will get somewhere from 8 (mid-May) to 12 (mid-June) depending on when they report to camp.

What about the season’s second half? So little is known about how the pandemic is going to play out that it is difficult to project what the second half of July or August might hold for our country or for baseball, other than the reality that games would probably still need to be played without fans because “large gatherings” figure to be the last “normal” to return.

Perhaps by mid-July, MLB will decide to continue the season in Arizona but will deem it is safe to lift one level of sequestering and allow families to join players — this outcome probably relies most on a high availability of public testing by mid-summer.

Or maybe come mid-July, MLB will decide to continue the season in each team’s true home stadiums, with players living separately at their homes (or at one local hotel) and allowed to co-mingle with family and friends — this outcome might rely most on development of a treatment that renders COVID-19 reduced to a bad cold rather than a potentially deadly force.

Or just as likely, come mid-July perhaps MLB decides to continue the season in the same “sequestered in Arizona” fashion it began — this indeed means more time away from family, but with 8-12 weeks of family time banked, not until August would we probably hit the “break even” point where the most fortunate of players (the ones whose families normally live in their home town) started to have been away from family as much as they were planning on.

Bottom Line

Without a doubt, if the regular season were to go on exclusively “sequestered in Arizona” through September — or even through October as has been suggested might happen as a way to get in closer to a full season — those most fortunate players would wind up away from family more.

However, the rest would still end up having spent a bit more time with family, all on the front end. And there are possible outcomes along the way, should testing and/or treatment improve in the coming months, that would allow for all players to be reunited with their families along the way.

So there might be some gambling involved — betting on improved testing and improved treatment to come our way by the All-Star break — and there might be some sacrifice involved for players whose “best case scenario” before were better than the “worst case scenario” now.

But it is NOT as if every player normally spends half their days with family during the baseball season, nor is it as if every player isn’t currently spending 2 months’ straight, unexpectedly, with family now — so the overarching point is that the gap between “the usual normal” and “a new normal” really isn’t a wide one in terms of “family time”.

I hope the MLBPA is able to do this math as it weighs how much to dig its collective feet in on the “family issue,” because I’m not sure it’s actually the issue that needs to stand in our way of a baseball season.