MILWAUKEE - Major League Baseball is planning on a full season in 2021, but once again, COVID-19 will play a starring role.
"I’m really excited to get out there, obviously, just to get out of the snow," said Ray Black. "It's time."
Signs of spring are starting to emerge, even as the snow is still piled high in Pennsylvania where Black has been quarantining before heading to Phoenix.
"That’s where, I guess, the sense of normalcy goes away again," said Black.
While spring training will be starting on time, it’s not like the past because COVID-19 is still a problem and that means new protocols are in place just to go to camp.
"You’re quickly hit with this realization, all right, we still have to quarantine," said Black. "We still got to be safe, masks, flights, testing."
Black, his wife and his teammates have already gone through something similar just to get the 2020 season in.
"We had spring training one," said Black. "We had the off time. We had spring training two. Then we had a 60-game sprint. Then the playoffs and it was over. It seemed like it never really started."
The difficulties of 2020 were compounded for Black. He injured his shoulder just as the season started and spent much of his time rehabbing in Appleton.
"I think I never really got ramped up properly for the second summer camp trying to get ready for the season," said Black.
The offseason meant going back home to Pennsylvania. It, too, was a much different experience than all of the previous winters, yet he was able to keep some normalcy.
"We go upstate New York every year and after the salmon run, we go up for steelhead. We always end up waiting until like, January to try and get up there, and of course, it’s always the most blistering, freezing temperatures you can imagine out on a little drift boat going down the river, but, you know, we didn’t do very well fishing, but we had a blast up there," he said.
While enjoying the outdoors fishing and hunting, baseball is still on top of the list in the offseason.
"It becomes a lifestyle for us where you eat it, you sleep it, your diet, your travel revolves around it," said Black. "You can’t take a couple days off from throwing. You can’t take a week off from the gym."
This time, awareness of COVID-19 was just as important as he worked on his game.
"How am I going to be able to throw?" said Black. "Who am I going to be able to throw with? Where am I going to be able to work out? Things you don’t really have to worry about so much before."
That vigilance is now paying off. He’s going into camp healthy and ready for the challenge that is the 2021 season.
"I’m looking to get out there and stay healthy throughout the course of spring training and slowly progress from start to finish," said Black.
Part of doing that means paying attention to protocols.
"Be smart," said Black. "Be vigilant, as well, out there. Keep everybody safe. Keeping everybody on the field, that’s first and foremost."
Black will join the rest of the pitchers and catchers when they report to spring training on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
The position players will report on Feb. 22 with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Feb. 23.