Bruce Zimmermann was supposed to be starting the Orioles’ spring training game Thursday, a chance to continue the impressive camp the Ellicott City native was putting together.
The league-wide shutdown over the coronavirus pandemic meant that the Orioles never played that game, and won’t for a long time.
Instead, Zimmermann spent the beginning of this week driving home from camp in Sarasota, Florida, to an uncertain future that, despite his lofty status in major league camp, is going to impact thousands of minor leaguers in the coming months.
“Like most minor league players, we have to make money any way we can in the offseason so hopefully some of the guys can go back to their offseason jobs or find something to hold them over until we get word," he said. “It’s just the situation you’re in. It’s a blessing and a privilege to play this game.
“Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to that sometimes, especially in cases like this. But guys will find a way to make it work. I know I will. I’ll look into the stuff I did this offseason or possible new things I can pick up for the next month or two and basically try to get by until we get back to playing baseball, because staying healthy and getting ready to play is the No. 1 priority.“
While major leaguers and minor leaguers aren’t paid salaries for spring training, they do get meal and housing allowances, with the amount far more substantial on the major league side. While camps are closed, the teams presumably stopped paying those, and the Major League Baseball Players Association will pay $1,100 per week through April 9 to any player on the 40-man roster through March 13 or anyone in major league camp on a nonroster invitation who had at least one day of major league service time in 2019, according to The Athletic.
Of the 54 players in Orioles camp, Zimmermann is one of four who doesn’t qualify for either designation, along with infielder Dilson Herrera and pitchers Rob Zastryzny and Eric Hanhold. Zimmermann is the only one of those, however, to not have made his major league debut.
However, MLB announced Thursday that teams would be providing lump sum payments of what players would have been getting for their housing and meal stipends through April 8 — the day before the minor league season was set to begin.
“MLB remains in communication with clubs on the development of an industry-wide plan for minor league player compensation from April 9 through the beginning of the coming season,” according to the league’s announcement.
At the time of the shutdown, Zimmermann was likely to start the year at Triple-A Norfolk but was one of the organization’s few pitching prospects left in camp, giving him a chance to make an impression on manager Brandon Hyde and the staff for a potential midseason call-up.
That’s all secondary to the health aspect of it, Zimmermann said. He quickly shifted from a baseball mindset to a safety one while thinking about going home to Ellicott City to his parents, who are in a demographic that might be more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Even before it became clear the season was going to be delayed, Zimmermann said that was the priority among the Orioles in Sarasota.
“The main thing that most of us are all concerned about was just the general health of everybody around us, including our teammates, the staff at the field,” he said. “It’s become so much more apparent how serious this virus can be, and how quickly it can spread. So once that became apparent, it really wasn’t baseball first. It was just kind of figuring out the best steps to take and to follow the people that actually know what they’re talking about.”
From a practical standpoint, Zimmermann said he’d be trying to work out at home, and if it’s safe, meet up with some players in the area so they can stay fresh. With gyms closed in Maryland and elsewhere around the country, much of the hyper-focused preparation players brought into spring training won’t be easily replicated, at least in the short term.
It’s small consolation that Zimmermann ended camp feeling as if he’d done everything he could to use the time he had in major league camp well, knowing that it ended abruptly for something more important than baseball.
“It’s not that it’s not worth processing because I was very happy and very pleased and proud with how I was able to present myself in that camp and how I pitched,” he said. “I loved being with the guys in camp. I tried to learn as much as I could from the older guys like [Wade] LeBlanc and [Tommy] Milone and [John] Means and [Alex] Cobb, and all those guys, to name a few, but I was really happy with how it went.
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“There’s no reason in crying over spilled milk. This pandemic affects much more than our spring training career, and that’s something to keep the bigger picture in mind. On a personal side, I was very happy with how I was able to play in spring training, and hopefully whenever we start up again there may be a chance. If not, I’ll just be ready to play whenever that happens.”