Cole Hamels is a believer.
He believes baseball will be back in the coming weeks and months.
"I do," the former Phillies ace told us in a socially distanced video interview. "I really think we're going to have a half-season and maybe they'll get creative with the postseason which might be interesting."
Baseball officials are quietly hoping that teams can begin "Spring Training II" sometime in June and get an abbreviated season going sometime in July. But those same officials will tell you that hot spots and flareups could put a halt to everything, so they'll only move with the OK of health experts and government officials.
Hamels is OK with that.
"We want this disease to go away," he said. "We don't want it to linger."
Hamels, now 36, spent a decade in red Phillies pinstripes and was World Series MVP in 2008. He was traded to Texas in July 2015, moved on to the Chicago Cubs and is now with the Atlanta Braves. He was slowed early in spring training by shoulder inflammation, but is now healthy, keeping up with his throwing and conditioning program via Facetime and Zoom video. When he's done with his work, he helps the kids with their school lessons at home.
It has been 55 days since baseball shut down because of the coronavirus health crisis. That is a significant amount of time — with more downtime to come. Even though players have been working out on their own, in their garages and backyards, they are going to need ample time in a second spring training to get ready to play. It's not clear if teams will train at their spring training sites or home ballparks, but they're going to need time. Hitters need reps. Pitchers need to recapture the arm strength they had built as mid-March approached.
Hamels believes starting pitchers will need four starts to get ready. But before that, they'll need time to work through bullpen sessions and live batting practice progressions. Pitchers won't have the luxury of a six-week camp, but two weeks is not going to do it, either.
"I'd say closer to a month," Hamels said. "I think that would be good just to get into the swing of things.
"And then you have to anticipate that guys are not going to be going past the sixth inning. I mean, if they get to the sixth inning, that would be like a nine-inning game for starters in the beginning. I think that's why the extended roster needs to be there to protect everybody because it's not only that you're playing for this season, you're playing for 2021, 2022."
Players are hoping to begin seasons in their home ballparks, so they can live with their families in their own in-season residences. It's unclear if there would be a geographical realignment of teams or if teams would simply load up on games in their own divisions to keep travel to a minimum. Staying in-division in home parks with no realignment is an idea that seems to be gaining traction.
However things shake out, players used to feeding off the electricity of fans in the ballpark will have to get used to playing in empty stadiums — at least early in baseball's return.
Hamels believes that will be a challenge that players will have to deal with as they return to spring training.
"We're going to have to get used to the fact that there will be no fans," he said. "There's going to be a weird, eerie silence.
"It's going to be a weird dynamic for players that are so used to having fans and feeling energy and momentum and knowing what that does. You'll have to learn to control your environment with no noise and no excitement. I think that is going to take practice. That's why a month — for the pitchers to build up, the hitters to get their reps in and then for all of us to get used to not having fans for a while."
Games will be televised. Hamels knows fans want to watch baseball and he believes it's up to the players to put on a good show for the people who support them.
"We want to distract from what's going on in the real world and give them hope and something to focus on," he said. "Because of that, this is probably the biggest tryout of everybody's career, so I think that's where you have to focus on building your own excitement and adrenaline. This is a showcase for us. If you're on salary arbitration, if you're a rookie, if you're like me, a one-year contract. This is the biggest showcase at one of the most difficult levels and you don't have that extra boost from the fans, so you're going to have to get it together and do it yourself.
"There is a great fan base in every city that needs this game of baseball and wants to be able to watch us do what we do and at the end of the day have a playoff and a World Champion, even if it's in a shortened season. That's the mentality we have to have. Whether it's 80 games, 100 games, we have to give them everything we can to enjoy baseball."