ARLINGTON, Texas — Jordan Lyles began his 2020 season for the second time Saturday.
The former Hartsville High School standout had a different destination this time, however, as he spent the day driving from his home in Colorado to Arlington, Texas, for Spring Training 2.0.
“It feels really good and it feels a little weird,” Lyles said. “We’re starting up for the second time, and not in our spring training facility (in Arizona), but going to our home ballpark in Arlington. It’s weird, but at the same time, I’m super excited and looking forward to it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of sports and all of MLB in mid-March. Since then, a return to play has been hampered by tense negotiations between the owners and the players.
A compromise on pro-rated salaries and the number of games could not be reached, which led to Commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners unilaterally imposing a season that will begin either July 23 or 24.
“I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy, so I was hopeful that we’d have a season,” Lyles said. “As a player, you have insights into those negotiations, and there were parts here and there that personally I thought there might be a chance where we didn’t get anything done, but I was always hoping for it.”
Lyles said that he understands the fans’ frustrations with the collective bargaining process.
“The regular fan doesn’t see the inside (negotiations) of what the players and owners are fighting for and what they’re trying to achieve for the next generation,” he said. “I know fans are unsettled by the process of those negotiations…but I was thankful and again always hopeful that we could get something done.”
Now he and every other player are focused on making the most of an unprecedented situation, starting with the non-normal routine of playing simulated spring training games somewhere other than Arizona or Florida.
“It’s brand new for everyone,” Lyles said. “Everyone’s been doing their own thing since we left spring training and working out at home. It’s going to be different for everyone.
“…I’m sure pitchers have kept their arms in shape, and we’re going to jump right into with some modified spring training games against our own guys.”
Teams have about three weeks to prepare for the 2020 season, which will be more of sprint this year as opposed to the usual 162-game marathon. With that in mind, keeping away from major injuries while also getting off to a good start will be paramount for teams, Lyles said.
“It’s not going to be like anything anyone has ever seen in baseball before,” he said. “Ever since you’ve been a professional, and for me that’s 10-plus years, it was always, ‘Hey, let’s maintain strength and stay healthy for 162 games. Let’s not push the envelope in April or May.’
“We’re kind of not afforded that right now. So I think it’s going to be a little bit more difficult on the managers with every single game being so important and significant.”
The 60-game season could also potentially benefit teams that get off to hot starts. The Rangers were predicted to finish fourth in the American League West by Baseball America before the season was condensed, but now every team seemingly has an opportunity to make the postseason.
“Just a couple good weeks or a good run or consecutive sweeps against some teams can put you in the race or back in the race really quickly,” Lyles said. “Last year I started off with Pittsburgh and we had a really decent first month or two and we would have been in the hunt if it was like this year.
“So it’s going to be exciting and weird and a lot of fun.”
Lyles and the other MLB players and coaches will still have to navigate the ongoing pandemic even with numerous safety measures already in place, as Texas remains one of the current hot spots for the virus along with Florida and Arizona.
“I would be lying if I said no one’s going to get it out of everything going on with the restarts with every sport,” Lyles said. “You’ve just got to be prepared and ready to separate those people and get them healthy and not let the virus continue to spread.
“You’ve got to take every safety measure you can and do the best you can. It’s worrisome, but the best thing we can do for our sport is to put a good product on the field and hope the fans enjoy it.”