Eloy Jiménez could hardly contain his excitement.
Not that Eloy Jiménez ever tries to contain his excitement about anything.
But when it was brought up Saturday that he and his fellow hitters don't have to deal with trying to play in the cold conditions of April and May during this most unusual of baseball seasons, he beamed and gave that idea two thumbs way, way up.
Eloy's reaction when it's brought up that he doesn't have to play in cold weather this year pic.twitter.com/wEDRRsqmmJ— Vinnie Duber (@VinnieDuber) July 4, 2020
For Jiménez and plenty of other hitters — from various countries around the world, the United States included — making contact with a 90- or 100-mph pitch in 40-degree weather is not something to look forward to. The hot summer months are when the balls start flying out of major league ballparks, and those are the conditions hitters enjoy the most.
The pandemic-shortened 2020 season has brought tons of changes to baseball. A season without the frigid temperatures of April and May? That's one of the good ones, at least for Jiménez.
"It's going to be better, you know?" Jiménez said. "In warm weather, everything is going to be more easy because when you go out in the cold weather, you think like, 'Oh, I need to go out (and) I need to get the hit. I don't want to get jammed.' Now it's going to be just go out and play and have fun."
That's one silver lining to a situation no one is finding to be a good one. Jimenez isn't quite as pleased with some of the other changes to the game, his daily routine and how players are supposed to interact with each other.
While Jiménez's now trademark on-TV greeting for his mom has always been compliant with social-distancing measures, he's a guy with a big personality who loves to interact with his teammates. In these first days of the MLB-branded "Summer Camp" at Guaranteed Rate Field, he's already trying to figure out how to navigate a new world — including socially distanced hugs.
"It’s hard because you know as a baseball player like me, I’m joking around a lot. Now, we need to keep distance. Too many rules, but we need to get used to it until this pandemic slows down a little bit," he said. "But it’s really hard.
"It’s going to be a little bit hard when the season starts. I think this is for now, six feet distance, you know, it’s going to be just for now. Later, it’s going to be better."
But there's no telling when the league will be able to ease these measures. While the initial testing numbers announced by Major League Baseball appeared encouraging, the numbers outside the walls of ballparks across the country are far more worrisome. It will be on the players to be responsible away from the ballpark and make sure they aren't exposing themselves — and by extension, their teammates and coaches — to the virus.
Whether those numbers keep fans out of the stands altogether during the 60-game regular season remains to be seen. But the season will almost certainly start that way. And that's another change that's going to be a weird one for Jiménez and the rest of the players across the league. Having been at Guaranteed Rate Field for two days' worth of workouts, it's already a little eerie to have an empty stadium and a complete lack of noise — and the games haven't even begun yet.
"It's going to feel like Rookie Summer League a little bit," Jiménez said. "But it's big league baseball. It's going to feel way different than Rookie ball.
"It's going to be a little bit hard because we play for the fans. They're going to watch us on TV, but it is what it is. We need to play and go out and play hard and forget about the other things."
How about the biggest change, that the season will be just 60 games long?
For many of the same reasons that playoff expectations were realistic back in the spring, it seems the White Sox are well positioned to compete for an AL Central crown in a shortened season, too. With the months-long layoff providing time for certain pitchers to recover from surgeries, they might even be in a better spot than they were when spring training was halted back in March.
According to Jiménez, the hopes are still high in the White Sox clubhouse. But undoubtedly the schedule provides its own challenges, and the valleys that come in any 162-game campaign won't be able to be weathered as easily with every game holding so much meaning.
"Yeah, it’s going to be hard because every game matters," Jiménez said. "But we have the same feel. We can make the playoffs. It’s going to be hard because it’s just going to be 60 games, but we can make it."
It's pretty tough to forget, considering the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our daily lives. The league hopes the players don't forget the myriad measures it's put in place, including social-distancing measures on the field, in the clubhouse and in the dugouts, in addition to those much discussed bans on spitting, high fives, hugs and Gatorade coolers. If Jiménez hits another rebuild-defining homer at Wrigley Field this season, he shouldn't expect the same kind of Gatorade bath he got last year.
But leave it to the uber-positive and always jovial Jiménez to find happiness, even in the midst of the pandemic.
"I’m happy to be back in Chicago, happy to be back with my boys," he said. "And I feel like what happened around with all of this, with the pandemic, we are still happy, you know? Go out, work out, smile and just work out hard. To go out and feel that is really good for me."
Eloy: "I'm happy to be back in Chicago, happy to be back with my boys." pic.twitter.com/ruRnXTbp3I— Vinnie Duber (@VinnieDuber) July 4, 2020