For a month in Scottsdale, reporters asked subtle questions, hoping to dig up another breadcrumb that would ultimately help answer what fans were asking. Who was Gabe Kapler going to use in the ninth inning? Which pitcher would be his fifth starter? Was he going to have Mike Yastrzemski as his leadoff hitter, or Mauricio Dubon, or perhaps someone else? Is Buster Posey still hitting in the heart of the Giants' lineup?
When baseball resumes, whenever it does, that process will pick back up. There's something special about a lineup. People want to see it, debate it, tell you why their version would be better. At some point, that will be part of normal life again. But for now, Kapler still mostly has managed to keep his preferences close to the chest. The answers to all those questions are known only to Kapler, some of his coaches and analytics people, and front-office officials.
Oh, and also the PlayStation sitting in his condo in Scottsdale.
Kapler is an outspoken proponent of social distancing and flattening the curve, and his staff has followed suit. But it's a group full of restless people who won't just simply wait for the call that they can return. The staff has been trying to find ways to improve during this hiatus, starting with that PlayStation.
It was the brainchild of Justin Viele, the young co-hitting coach who uses "MLB: The Show" to scout opposing pitchers. Kapler has picked the habit up over the past month, using the video game to get through a season in quick manage mode.
"You can play a game in about five minutes," Kapler said on this week's Giants Insider Podcast. "It's just kind of going through each at-bat and making the decisions along the way. It's a good way to learn opposing bullpens and who is in them and how highly they're rated. That's another way we're using video games to stay in shape."
For nearly a month now, the staff has been barred from Scottsdale Stadium. Kapler's office there had two doors and he encouraged his 13 coaches to walk through on their way to other meetings, or pop in during the day for a quick chat. He has tried to keep that vibe going during a strange time for the sport, using technology that's now part of everyday life for a country on lockdown.
Yes, the Giants are fully on board the Zoom train. They're using it for big meetings and small ones. First base/outfield coach Antoan Richardson is holding Zoom calls with outfielders to dig into the nuances of outfield play, something that can get lost during a long season. The staff even uses Zoom to run a book club. They're currently reading "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle. The book sells itself as unlocking "the secrets of highly successful groups."
"We're breaking into smaller groups as a staff -- and as you know, we've got a pretty big staff -- so we've got several smaller groups having Zoom calls discussing how to make our culture stronger as a result of reading that book," Kapler said.
The Giants also make regular use of Trello, an app that tracks and logs conversations, videos and drill packages. If one of his hitting coaches has a 30-minute conversation with a player and shares some highlights, Kapler can get a quick rundown of how it went. Those types of conversations are happening daily, although Kapler said he's careful not to overdo it. He's talking to several players a day but understands that some would prefer their space right now.
"This is just an opportunity to connect," Kapler said. "I think when players are isolated and they're by themselves, a catch-up conversation can only help."
The coaches are doing the same, although there's only so much you can accomplish over the phone or during a video call. Still, the Giants are regularly sending workout plans to players and some are taking part in virtual yoga classes. The organization's nutrition department is taping cooking demonstrations to help players make healthy meals.
The rest of the time right now isn't all that different whether you're working from home because your tech office in SoMa closed, or because you're the manager of the Giants and you have no ballpark to report to. Kapler, a health enthusiast throughout his career, was digging deep into COVID-19 even before camp shut down, and one of the first things he does every morning is listen to "Up First," a 10-minute news podcast from NPR.
Like most Americans, he is digesting regular updates on social media, where he also has gotten a kick out of seeing some of the creative training methods of his players. Kapler is encouraged that the Giants are using this time to try and get better, and he said they'll come out of this with "best practices" and some new teaching tools. They'll also be much better with a video game controller in their hands.
The PlayStation simulations will continue, and Kapler also plans to play "Out of the Park Baseball," a computer game that also allows simulations. The Giants aren't facing NL West opponents right now, but Kapler is still trying to simulate that feeling.
So ... how are the virtual Giants doing?
"Maybe I'll lean on the sample size is too small right now," Kapler said, laughing. "But I'll say this, it's fun to see the player of the game. I sent a player of the game screenshot to Brandon Crawford when we beat Madison Bumgarner, and that was pretty fun. We had a nice back and forth and he sent me back a shot of him in a hoops game, so that was kind of cool. And then I did the same thing with Wilmer Flores.
"It's kind of a fun way to stay in touch with players and a fun way to stay up to speed on what's going on around baseball."