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As baseball takes a step back, so too can the Orioles after a stunning day

Chris Davis, the Orioles' Major League Baseball Players Association representative on MLB's delay of the season due to coronavirus

SARASOTA, FLA. — Twice in the span of less than a week, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has spoken for a team rocked by the unthinkable.

First, this weekend on young star Trey Mancini’s departure for the team for what the world learned Thursday was surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon.

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Then, Thursday afternoon, he sat and spoke almost in wonder at the idea that spring training was being canceled and the start of the regular season delayed two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic that has caused unprecedented cancellations in societal and sporting calendars.

The public at large hadn’t learned of Mancini’s procedure yet, and it’s unclear whether the players were told before it was announced in public because of the disjointed nature of the day. But Davis didn’t need to search for words to describe Thursday from a baseball sense.

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“I can’t even think of anything to compare it to, to be honest with you,” Davis said of the league’s cancellation of effectively four weeks of baseball. “Just a very odd situation.”

For the Orioles, the news made for a combination of circumstances that create a mountain of perspective in a way other teams simply grappling with the schedule adjustments did not encounter.

Their scheduled 6:05 p.m. road start against the Minnesota Twins was the only night game scheduled in Florida, and with all of the Cactus League games in Arizona canceled because of bad weather, no other team had a logistical day like they had.

Davis said that, by Thursday morning, there was a sense that some kind of suspension was inevitable.

“When more and more information started coming out about the NBA and then you started hearing the NHL, their thoughts and their stance, I think that’s when you start to think, ‘Are we going to be next? Are we going to be the last one to kind of hold strong or are we going to make the same move?’” Davis said. “There were so many unknowns. Obviously, now, we have a little bit of an idea of what’s going to happen, but there’s still a lot of time over the next few days and a lot of things that need to be discussed.”

The rest of the teams in Florida probably got wind of the league’s planned suspension of activities on the field or in the dugout during games. Media observers marveled that after the spate of cancellations Wednesday, these games even began.

With no word from Major League Baseball, though, the Orioles boarded their buses to Fort Myers around 1:15 p.m. for the approximately 90-minute drive down Interstate 75. But they made four left turns around the block to bring them back to Ed Smith Stadium, deciding that they could still make it to the game on time if they left later.

So they came back and simply waited, and eventually, MLB passed down word that spring training was canceled and the start of the season would be pushed back. Davis, the team’s representative to the players’ union, said there wasn’t much clarity on what the next few weeks would look like without an imminent Opening Day. His own preference is to work at the Orioles’ complex in Sarasota, though others could be hoping to get out of town and go back home. By the time the baseball operations center emptied out Thursday, no one was clear what would happen even the next day, let alone the next week.

“We’re kind of playing it by ear right now,” Davis said. “I’m sure we’ll be in communication with [manager Brandon Hyde, major league field coordinator/catching instructor Tim Cossins] all those guys over the next few days to kind of figure out what our plan is.”

Whatever the Orioles do going forward, they’ll be doing it with Mancini in their hearts. The 27-year-old slugger gathered the team Saturday morning to tell them what he was dealing with medically. Now, we know that a colonoscopy found a tumor that needed to be surgically removed.

It’s unclear how much he shared with his teammates before leaving town, but their comments Sunday indicated they knew he might have been in for a fight. There are no reliefs in knowing the removal was a success, though delaying the season means the delay of even a hint of speculation on how many games he’ll miss or how the Orioles will replace a player just as much at the heart of their team as a group as he is the heart of their lineup.

The weekend’s news that he wasn’t going to be around forced the team to step back and take a wide view to focus on what was truly important as they prepared for the season. Now that there isn’t a season to prepare for, at least for two weeks after they thought it would, that perspective will be more valuable than ever.

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