The Athletic’s Britt Ghiroli has what very well may end up being the most interesting story to come out of the last four months or so without Major League Baseball: some players, including a handful of stars, played baseball in secret during the shutdown between March and July. The players met up at Cressey’s Sports Performance Gym in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and played some games at Palm Beach Gardens High School.
The list of players is extensive but includes Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, Paul Goldschmidt, and Giancarlo Stanton. Other players who participated included Luke Jackson, Logan Morrison, Richard Bleier, Robert Gsellman, Michael Wacha, Josh James, Taylor Guerrieri, Brian Moran, Mike Brosseau, Ryan LaMarre, Steve Cishek, Nick Wittgren, Brad Hand, Zach Plesac, Anthony Swarzak, Monte Harrison, Isan Díaz, Jordan Holloway, Austin Voth, Kyle McGowin, Tyler Kinley, Kyle Barraclough, A.J. Ramos, Kevin Siegrist, Triston McKenzie, and Jesús Luzardo. Noah Syndergaard also did his rehab work at the facility.
Per Ghiroli, the players implemented their own rules to reduce potential transmission of the virus as much as possible, implementing rules that included no sliding and distancing as much as possible. So far, no one who was at Cressey’s facilities has tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Though it is worth mentioning that it is not known how many of those players were tested and at which frequencies.
The underground baseball ring proved to be a bonding experience for the players, who were in the midst of a battle with MLB owners over the details of the 2020 season. The owners wanted to replace the temporary March agreement but made some insulting offers and attacked the players and the union through the media. The union held its ground and ultimately the two sides broke off negotiations. Morrison estimates that the pandemic was eight percent responsible and the owners were 92 percent responsible for uniting the group.
The players worried about the attention they might attract, but to their credit, they managed to keep it secret, avoiding posting to social media about the adventure. Some players wanted it to be publicized. Braves pitcher Luke Jackson said, “You want to see Scherzer and Goldschmidt or Stanton go head-to-head? And hear them go back and forth? People are going to pay to go to a high school field for that.”
In March, soon after MLB shut down operations because of the pandemic, Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer helped organize a “Sandlot” wiffleball game” that was livestreamed on YouTube. As of this writing, the game got over 110,000 views. One can only wonder how many views an “underground” game of real baseball featuring some of baseball’s biggest stars would have gotten. As it is, however, the venture allowed players to get into game shape ahead of schedule. Players are now on their way to their teams in their home cities to officially get back into game shape. The regular season will likely begin on July 23.