Dallas Keuchel knows from experience what it’s like to have something so central to your life get completely stripped away.
As we all wait out the global pandemic that has stopped most of the world in its tracks, the White Sox pitcher is also faced with the daily concern that the coronavirus could touch one of his closest family members, his older sister, who’s on the front lines of the fight.
“I pray to the good lord every day that this thing ends quicker than later,” Keuchel said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast.
As important as baseball is to Keuchel, it takes a backseat to the real-world problems of the pandemic and the concern that its invisible tentacles could touch his sister, Krista, a registered nurse who works at a hospital in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“I know she is on the front line helping people. I do pray for her every day, just to make sure that she’s safe,” Keuchel said.
The realities of being a hospital worker in these conditions have become all too real for Keuchel and his family.
“She’s got two kids, a husband. It would be devastating for her to come into contact with it or anything associated with it because she’s told me that when she comes home from work she has to change outside in the garage, and have the kids in another room, and then go shower immediately before she comes in contact with them because of the fear of the spread,” Keuchel explained. “She works her butt off.
“I’m very proud to be her brother, but at a time like this it worries me. She worries me a lot.”
Like everyone living through these unparalleled and unknowable times, Keuchel's priority is the health and safety of his family.
But as the baseball world idles, hoping to hear word on when it can start spinning again, Keuchel endures his second such wait in as many years.
Go back a year to this very time when the league was up and running. Baseball filled the air, though not for Keuchel. He was stuck at home in limbo, without a team, without a contract, trying to stay in shape not knowing if or when he’d be back on a professional mound in 2019.
He and fellow free agent Craig Kimbrel drew a line in the sand against the powers that be, missing out on spring training and the first two months of the season, holding out for contracts they believe they deserved.
“Where the game was at last year for myself and Craig Kimbrel, it was to set off for the greater good of the players, for the players' purposes for the CBA coming up and what we stand for,” Keuchel said. “It was Craig and myself at the forefront. Hopefully that serves well.”
Keuchel eventually signed with the Braves on June 7. Kimbrel signed with the Cubs the same day.
But here we are, one year later. The game has been shut down. And despite signing a three-year $55.5 million contract with the White Sox this offseason, Keuchel is doing the math in his head, calculating how much baseball he’s missing. He’s in his 30s at a time when a pitcher’s shelf life is limited — and it troubles him.
“For me to sit out three months last year, it really ate at me for quite a few times, and I had to tell myself, ‘Hey, it’s all going to work out.’ But now this year with the virus happening, I’m adding up three months of last year and then potentially three or maybe more months of this year, that’s a whole season that I don’t get back in the course of my career which I’d love to be on the field,” Keuchel said. “I’m not a selfish guy by any means, but who knows what kind of numbers I could have put up in the three months last year and the three months this year. Everybody is in the same boat this year with this pandemic that’s going on.
“That’s something that will probably eat at me and be in the back of my mind for a very long time.”
From the sound of it, Major League Baseball is open to trying almost anything to get the players back on the field, assuming they get the green light from medical and scientific professionals.
Play the season at spring training sites in Florida and Arizona?
“It’s kind of just throw an idea in the barrel, swirl it around and see what comes out,” Keuchel said. “It’s just ideas for days now, I guess, and whatever makes sense or doesn't make sense still makes sense.”
Which three months ago wouldn’t have made any sense. A pandemic suspending the season? That’s a movie you’d have to pay me to watch. Instead, it’s become real life.
Trying to predict the future and when baseball will return is impossible at this point. We’re still in the middle of the storm. And while Keuchel isn’t a doctor or scientist, he feels deep down in his gut that the sport will return in 2020. He can’t think any other way.
“I don’t know when it’s going to be, but I will not let my mind go to, ‘This is a wash of a season.’ Until that happens I say we’re going to play. That’s what I’ll think no matter who tells me what until there’s word that it’s done. I still think we’re going to play.”
If that happens, he foresees the sport helping to heal the country.
“I saw what baseball can do for a city in Houston in 2017 after the hurricane. It was something that you see out of a movie. The city just wrapped itself around the baseball team. It was something that still gives me goosebumps to this day,” Keuchel said.
So we’ll wait for the skies to clear and hope that day comes.
“I think baseball could be a huge remedy for what’s going on in America right now. It’s such a traditional sport that I think people would just love to see it back being played back live. Having a hot dog, eating popcorn and drinking a beer in the stands or whatever is going to happen.
“I think that’s what people would flock to.”