SAN DIEGO – The world has changed significantly over the past 12 months and baseball was no exception as last year’s global pandemic sent shockwaves to players, coaches, media and fans alike.
Empty ballparks with no fans, zoom press conferences with the media and heightened health and safety protocols were just some of the dramatic changes seen last season.
On Monday, the Cubs played in their 60th game of the season, a benchmark that meant something completely different in 2020. During the shortened season, the Cubs’ 60th game was their last before entering the postseason.
Following last year’s chaotic sprint, the Cubs reflected on just how dramatic a difference this season has been, compared to last year’s unusual, but historic one.
“Well, I hope we have to worry about going to the postseason, but just not today,” manager David Ross joked on Monday. “It hit me probably a little more than a month ago, I was still in kind of sprint mode. … The last year for me has been a lot. I think for the world, right? For everybody, it’s been a lot. But, we’re starting to see some really light at the end of the tunnel.”
With a schedule spanning eight months and a 162-game in addition to spring training and the postseason, baseball’s grind is unlike any other sport.
Last season’s schedule was a fraction of it’s normal length, but with the mental, physical and emotional toll of an abbreviated season combined with a global pandemic and social justice movements around the country made simply playing baseball a challenge with much of the focus, and rightfully so, in other places.
“I was looking back on it a week after the season ended and was like, ‘That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,'” right fielder Jason Heyward told the Sun-Times. “Baseball-wise, being a human being. seeing everyone with their families. It felt like the first time everyone in society was like, ‘We’re being hurt by this no matter how you look at.’ That was tough, man. I think there’s still some residual effects for all of us.”
As the mentality off the field has begun to change with vaccinations rolling out and COVID-19 positivity rates dropping beginning to be seen in all aspects of life, players have also had to recalibrate on the field. After being asked to push through a 60-game season, realizing the playoffs don’t begin in what would normally be the middle of the season is still a shock to the system of players.
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks had 12 starts during the shortened season and was one of the best pitchers in the game, going 6-5 with a 2.88 ERA. Through 12 starts this season, he’s 7-4 with a 4.59 ERA and even after doing well under the stress of 2020, he still can’t believe what players put their bodies through to try to compete.
“It’s just a wild thought, man,” Hendricks said. “I’m not in the same spot I was last year. Not even close. So feeling like my next start would be in the postseason that’d be a tough spot to be in right now.
“It really did feel so fast last year, but you really didn’t realize how fast it was going in the moment. I don’t think you realize it until you get back into a normal season like this. I mean, we’re really just finding our rhythm and our groove. I feel really good where I’m at, but I’m definitely glad that I get about 20 more starts, for sure.”