By Bob Wirz
With baseball shut down indefinitely because of the coronavirus one cannot help but think what is going through the mind of the countless professional players throughout the game, with perhaps a little extra attention to those in major league camps who were on the bubble of a $563,500 payday if they were fortunate enough to become one of the rookies breaking through to The Show for the first time.
For this purpose, we turn to onetime Sioux City first baseman John Nogowski as the nominal spokesman for entire group. The 27-year-old went to the St. Louis Cardinals spring training camp in Jupiter, FL as a non-roster player with a reasonable chance of being part of the National League team that was scheduled to open the season next week. After all, he had hit a career-high 15 home runs and drove in 75 runs for Triple-A Memphis with a .295 average and attention-grabbing .413 on-base percentage in only 117 games last year.
“It (stoppage of play) has been crazy, nuts,” the right-handed hitting (he throws left) told the The Tallahassee Democrat in the city where he played college baseball for Florida State three years and one failed opportunity (Oakland farm system) before he joined the Explorers for the first five weeks of the 2017 American Association season which re-started his path toward the major leagues. “We are in a state of holding, I guess. It is constant limbo.”
And how was his experience with the parent Cardinals in February and March?
“It has been incredible, awesome,” he told the newspaper. Nogowski got into 14 of the 19 spring training games, hitting .200 (5-for-25) with five runs batted in and walking five times (he only struck out three times) to build a .333 on-base percentage. With the reputation of a good fielder (.996 at Sioux City), he handled all 66 chances perfectly this spring.
“Being here and being able to talk to guys like Carp (Matt Carpenter) and Goldie (Paul Goldschmidt) about their approach has been great,” he explained to The Democrat. “I feel like I’ve had a good spring. Kind of seeing that I belong and can hold my own. It’s about getting that opportunity.”
Matzek’s Magic May Not Be Enough
Multiple obstacles can prevent players from starting the season in the major leagues (whenever that is) even if someone like Tyler Matzek, the lefty off the Texas AirHogs last two teams, comes along and has a brilliant spring performance.
Reports circulating, including on MLB.com, indicate Atlanta already needs to open up three spots on its totally full 40-man roster before even considering the surging hurler. One such roster slot is needed for King Felix, veteran starter Felix Hernandez, who is with the Braves for the first time. Whether it will be enough, all Matzek did during spring training was strike out 10 of the 15 batters he faced while issuing one hit and one walk without giving up any runs.
“Can’t say enough about how impressive this lefty has been this spring,” reported BravesJournal. “Plagued by the yips (control) for years, (he is) now striking out everyone with an upper-90s fastball.”
Olympic and WBC Qualifying on Hold
The coronavirus has still more baseball players, including some who played in the American Association, uncertain what the future holds in that the eight-team competition scheduled in Arizona this month to decide the fifth of six countries to qualify for the Olympics later this year in Tokyo has been delayed. Naturally, this also pushes back the last competition planned for Taiwan where the final team will be determined. Japan, Korea, Mexico and Israel qualified previously. And, 12 countries are on hold for the two qualifying events that will decide the last four entries in next year’s 20-team World Baseball Classic.
Reading Calms Hoyt’s Mind
Superstitions always seem prevalent in baseball. Cleveland and onetime American Association (Wichita) reliever James Hoyt divulged his to MLB.com: “Whether it’s in the morning or before the game, I have to read. Reading calms my mind. (He reads) just everything. I read a lot of biographies or athlete-based books; mind stuff.”
This T-Bones Hurler Has Magic
One last tip of the cap for spring training.
Former Kansas City T-Bones righty Kevin Lenik, who Boston signed last May, was on one of those one-day passes from the minor league camp when he picked up a save in the parent Red Sox’s last exhibition game March 11. The 28-year-old Californian, a Kansas City Royals farmhand when last season started, was with the T-Bones long enough at the beginning of their season to magically get credit for two wins and a save in three innings of work spread over the same number of appearances. At Port Charlotte, FL, in what turned out to be the spring training finale he allowed a harmless single and walk and collected a strikeout, as he hurled the final inning of a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay.
One can only hope he got the ball from the popup that ended the game as a souvenir.
Previously the chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site, has a blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, and a book about his life, “The Passion of Baseball”, is available at Amazon.com or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.