The journey out to Surprise, Ariz. is the longest of the spring for everyone affiliated with the Giants, but Gabe Kapler made sure the beat writers who drove down the seemingly endless Bell Road on March 11 at least got something to write about. After a rain-shortened game against the Rangers, Kapler announced that Johnny Cueto would be his Opening Day starter.
"This is a guy who thrives in the spotlight," Kapler said that day. "Opening Day is a big, exciting day for a lot of people."
Looking back on that day in a recent phone interview, Kapler talked about how the timing felt right. He had informed Cueto of his preference and told Jeff Samardzija that he would start the second game, and it was time to get the news out there. The Giants would be off the following day, then return on March 13 for a couple of split-squad games that would kick off the final stretch of an energetic camp.
"That felt like the news that was most important for the day and in hindsight it seems pretty frivolous," Kapler said during an interview with The Giants Insider Podcast.
"Because very quickly after that, within the next 24 hours, things really started to move quickly and the climate around the country had changed dramatically. And it seems like the climate is changing quickly day to day now, as well. But I would just say that the mood at that point was much different and it all felt very abrupt but also appropriate. We needed to stop."
The Giants were supposed to return to camp a month ago today, but they now have no idea when they'll resume operations. An optimistic viewpoint has baseball back in June or July, but there's a real possibility the 2020 season is never played. Kapler believes the game will return, but he's also paying close attention to the daily developments around COVID-19 and knows how unpredictable this all can be. The Giants found that out a month ago.
Several team officials flew home in the middle of that week because March 12 was the first off day in camp. They intended to return that weekend but never came back. The players didn't on March 13, either.
The facility was closed for the weekend for deep cleaning, with some team employees stopping by to empty their offices before driving back to San Francisco. Players started to get sent home, and by the end of the following week, both facilities in Scottsdale had been shut down. The speed of it all caught some players by surprise.
"I was so blind at the time, my fiancée was telling me the whole time 'this is happening, this is happening' and I was not paying attention," Mauricio Dubon said last month. "I was more worried about am I playing center tomorrow or am I playing second tomorrow. I wasn't thinking about it. Then, when I stopped doing all that and just focused in on the world it was literally an eye-opener. You start looking at what's going on in Italy and all those countries and it was pretty crazy."
Kapler compared his clubhouse to the rest of society, saying there were some who were taking the spread of the virus extremely seriously and others who were doing more observing.
"It's very similar to the way society responded," he said. "Our clubhouse, our coaching staff and our players responded, and then I think we all recognized collectively the seriousness of things when we just shut all of our doors and told everybody to stay home."
Kapler has stayed in Arizona, working to lead the organization from a condo close to the ballpark. Just about everyone else involved with the organization long ago returned home, although many of the coaches and players live in the Phoenix area year-round. Their first spring together ended in an odd way, with an off day that turned into a permanent break, but team officials look back on that second week in March with relief. The Giants moved quickly after COVID-19 hit the sports world, and thus far they have not had any players or coaches test positive.
"When camp stopped, it needed to stop," Kapler said. "It was the right thing to do for everyone and we needed to quickly behave like we were all asymptomatic carriers and act like we had the virus. This was not just to flatten the curve but to be respectful of healthcare workers and be respectful of first responders.
"Major League Baseball needed to take that action because we recognized that we're leaders in a lot of ways and people are looking at us for guidance," Kapler added. "It was the right move at the right time."