One thing is already abundantly clear about this baseball season: the successful teams will be the ones who are able to master multi-tasking — starting now, and extending to September, and into October.
(Assuming, of course, that the virus doesn’t simply play its game-ending trump card at any point between now and then.)
Everyone’s brain — owners, GMs, field managers, players — will be separated into dueling halves, one occupied with health and safety protocols, one reserved for executing the jobs for which they are normally paid. It is not an easy rhythm to master, not an agreeable balance to strike, for these are men who reached the apex of their careers by being single-minded and devoted, by obsessing about craft and process.
Baseball is, in normal times, a paean to concentration, to blocking out everything else that gets in the way of painting the black with a slider, of connecting on 99-mph gas, on trying to outsmart and outfox the other manager in the other dugout, on constructing the perfect 26- and 40-man rosters and procuring talent on the fly.
But you may have noticed: These are not normal times.
“It’s hard to separate or distinguish between the two,” Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen admitted late Monday afternoon, in his first public comments since baseball’s resumption was announced last week. “We’ve spent a lot of time and effort preparing for the opportunity we now have in front of us.
“John Ricco [a senior vice president and one of the Wilpons’ chief lieutenants] has been taking a leadership role of managing the process, preparing our facilities. We have to make sure we have our facilities prepared to handle us, and protocols in place, and also a buy-in from every a part of it.”
So far, Van Wagenen’s task hasn’t been as cloudy as some others across the sport who hold the same job. Only one member of the Mets’ 40-man roster has tested positive for COVID-19 [he declined to identify who], and as of right now all of the players in the Mets’ still-developing player pool for summer camp have indicated they’re going to report.
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Still, once those players start to arrive at Citi Field on Wednesday and start to engage in full-squad workouts Friday, they will be asked to do so much more than work on stretching their arms out, or honing their swings in the cage.
Once Luis Rojas, the rookie manager, welcomes his team back he will need to have so much more on his plate than simply figuring out a batting order, finagling his rotation, maximizing his bench and his bullpen. The job is hard enough; now the hardest part of that job is only about half the job — and might not really be the most difficult part as it turns out.
Van Wagenen, ever the optimist, said, “This season will be new for everyone. Luis may benefit from all of his peers going through a situation they’ve never been through themselves.”
And once this all becomes real — the 60-game dash for glory, the resumption of baseball activity, ultimately (and hopefully) the sprint to October — Van Wagenen will be charged not only with maximizing the Mets’ 2020 expectations by doing workaday GM duties, he’ll also be the most prominent warden charged with keeping everyone in line. There are other leaders in the cast — the owners above him, Rojas below, veteran players — but making all of this work will ultimately fall on the shoulders of a second-year GM who already had an awful lot to prove.
“Leadership,” he said, “is everything here.”
This time around, that word is loaded with more meaning than ever before. For everyone.
“It’s making sure we are helping set up our players for workouts and for what life will be inside the clubhouse,” he said. “It’s building a roster and putting the team in position to succeed every day and night and never leave that behind. That work environment is symbiotic with what we’re trying to do here.”
It is a part of the narrative of any spring training to speak easily about how “laser-focused” player X is, or how “locked in” Player Z is. We write sonnets about managers’ single-minded devotions, iambic pentameter about GMs with their heads down, fixed on finding missing pieces and secret weapons. In summer camp they will all try to be all of that, sure.
But also more. So much more.