For Orioles farmhands, baseball and virtual book clubs collide with season on hold

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Planning a meal for 170 minor league players and staff is a daunting undertaking under normal circumstances. The way the Orioles did it earlier this week was much simpler: As a way to practice good nutrition, each player chose between salmon and chicken, prepared some potatoes and vegetables along with it, and hopped on a video conference with everyone else in the organization.

Such is the life of an Orioles farmhand in the time of the coronavirus shutdown, at a time when the prospects who represent the lifeblood of the rebuilding organization and much of its hope for the future would have been typically preparing for Thursday’s minor league opening day but instead are maintaining their physical skills for an uncertain future as they enjoy those team dinners and start a book club.


“As soon as this all started to unfold, that we were going to be sent home and we weren’t going to have the ability to play anymore, my mindset shifted immediately towards, ‘What can we do now to be productive and take advantage of this time?’” director of player development Matt Blood said.

“I’m sure for players and members of the staff, it’s probably a little disappointing. We just want to continue to get better, and there’s a lot of ways to do that that’s not just playing games. We’re just going to explore those options.”


Minor leaguers were sent home for good March 14 because of the coronavirus shutdown, and for the nearly four weeks since, it’s been the goal of Blood and staff full of mainstays and newcomers to find as many ways as possible to get themselves and the players better without baseball on the horizon.

“It’s actually been pretty inspiring to see the work that our coaches and players have been doing,” Blood said. “We probably are averaging three to four Zoom calls a day on various different topics or themes.”

For the players, the Orioles are hoping they can simply maintain the physical progress they made in the offseason and into spring training, even as it’s unclear when the minor league games will start back up. They’ve been clear with players to follow health guidelines, and acknowledge that every player is in different circumstances.

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“Some guys are more fortunate and have either a facility available or they have equipment at their house, and some guys don’t have anything. So they’ve got to get creative with using resistance items that they can manufacture at home, or using walls for wall-ball routines, or hitting into a net or something like that,” Blood said. “It all kind of just depends on the player and what he has access to, but ideally, they’re somewhat maintaining in this time and trying to avoid atrophy or regression as much as possible.”

There’s also plenty of digital training being made available. Coaches are checking in with players regularly via FaceTime or text to check in on their progress individually. As groups, the players have mental skills training three days a week, plus the nutrition work that led to the group dinner. Every other week, there’s a “hitter’s hot stove” meeting for all the players to just talk hitting.

And players and coaches alike are meeting weekly in video book club sessions to discuss “Mindset,” the 2007 book by Carol Dweck that outlines the growth mindset philosophy of always trying to improve that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal brought with them from the Houston Astros.

Coaches, too, are trying to stay sharp and improve during this time, Blood said. He was hired in September, and while he quickly assembled a staff, Blood said that they were using the time without games to finish some organizational planning that would have had to be crammed between spring training workouts and games while still keeping things player-focused around that.

“Things like webinars on different topics that we need to learn about, or committee meetings of our different groups, whether it’s our hitting group or defensive groups, nutrition, mental skills, strength and conditioning, performance,” Blood said. “All those types of things we’re getting together on a regular basis and talking about items that we want to work on, and we’re doing that. Out of that comes ideas and different things that we do.”


It’s all being done under the auspices that player development can continue and everyone can improve even as the game is shut down, with a focus on the whole player knowing that there will be time to sharpen baseball skills again if games resume this summer.

“There’s going to be a ramp-up period at some point,” Blood said. ”It’s so unprecedented, so we’re just going to do our best to get everyone back together, whenever that’s allowed, and assess where they are and try and continue forward.”