RENO, Nev. — The life of a minor league ballplayer can be hectic — transferring from team to team, getting called up to the major leagues, going back down to the minors, never certain where you'll be.
COVID-19 has added an extra layer of uncertainty. Many players on minor league teams across the U.S. are home right now or stuck in hotels in Arizona, where spring training was happening when much of the world came to a standstill amid widespread orders to shelter in place.
“It happens so fast,” said Reno Aces pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru, who was able to make it home to his wife Alysa in Texas. “Everybody else thought it was no big deal at first … we had a doctor come into the big league locker room and just tell us ‘just do this.' And then all of a sudden the next day is like ‘everybody out.'”
Some players who can't go home because their country is experiencing some form of shutdown or it isn't safe for them to travel are staying in the Aces' team hotel in Arizona.
The players get a food stipend of about $400 a month, but that is only through the end of April, and they don't know what will happen next.
In the meantime, Bajenaru's wife has used her website, Our Baseball Life — which normally helps baseball families find resources in new cities after their frequent moves — to help people affected by COVID-19.
She and her partners on the site started a fund in partnership with the nonprofit More Than Baseball to help players in need with grants given to them by the fund.
Aside from financial worries, players remain concerned about how the shutdown will affect their athletic skills. Bajenaru calls and texts his players to keep in touch and check in on them.
“A lot of guys are doing different things,” Jeff said about calling and texting his players, “That's part of why we're calling is because, it's like stay in shape, but don't overdo it, but don't just sit around either. They're going to have time to come back and like on-ramp back into the game. No one's going to let them… play in a week, they have to build arms back up and stuff like that.”
With the season postponed indefinitely, there is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety among players and staff who want to get back out on the field.
“I think everyone's just ready to start up and anxious. The longer it goes, the more worried they are that we're not going to play,” Bajenaru said. “Anytime you take a day off or even a week off in baseball, three days off feels like an eternity, like [for] your arm. You come back after three days and you're like, I don't even know how to throw anymore.”
It's not just the players who are in limbo — the entire business of baseball has ground to a halt.
“The very essence of what we do is bring people together, for mutual enjoyment of world-class sports,” said Eric Edelstein, president at Reno Aces Baseball and Reno 1868 Football Club. “And that is dangerous in the current climate.”
Greater Nevada Field, where the Reno Aces would be playing right now, has 51 full-time employees. Full-time staff is still working, but the 150 to 200 people who work for food service and staff events are not getting any hours right now, Edelstein said.
The stadium is looking to the next round of stimulus packages to see if they can get any help from the government.
“I got into this business ‘cause I love sports and I love being around sports,” Edelstein said, “and I'm spending my days following essentially federal legislation right now.”
While many professional sports organizations could potentially play without an audience and still make money because of sponsor and TV deals, the Aces don't have any TV deals, unlike their major league parent team, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The team's main sources of revenue are by selling tickets, hot dogs, beer, merchandise, and through sponsorships from nearly 100 corporate partners.
The stadium has put its efforts in recent days toward helping the community. It held a food bank event recently, and hosted the Shakespeare Animal Fund as it distributed dog food. Officials also connected with county officials to offer space and resources that might be needed.
“No matter what level of pain we're going through financially, like none of it is more important than supporting [hospital and medical workers] right now. So that's actually what we've put our efforts toward,” Edelstein said.
While baseball and soccer games are indefinitely postponed, stadium officials are still working on planning for future events, keeping the stadium clean and the field maintained.
“We will survive. The stadium will not close. That is 1,000 percent, lock, guarantee,” said Edelstein. “How we get there and what it looks like when we get to the other end — there's the million different scenarios … but sports will be played at Greater Nevada Field when sports can be played at Greater Nevada Field. There's no risks in that sense.”