Until the last few days, Phil Gosselin wasn't having much trouble staying ready for the return of baseball, whenever that happens. He's been living in Nashville, Tennessee, where he's hooked up with a couple of other ballplayers, Adam Duvall of the Atlanta Braves and Jacob Stallings of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They'd been able to sneak into batting cages at some of the area schools until they started getting kicked out the other day. They found a new one tucked off down the right-field line at an out-of-the-way field on Tuesday and were able to take some hacks.
"We'll see how long it lasts," Gosselin said with a laugh.
A month ago, Gosselin was playing third base for the Phillies during a Grapefruit League game against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Florida. Major League Baseball was about to suspend spring training as concern over the coronavirus began to grow. Gosselin got advance notice of the news as he tossed balls across the diamond in the middle of the fifth inning.
"The third base umpire told me, 'This is it, we're done after this,'" Gosselin said. "We still had a few innings to go so I knew I had to lock in and concentrate. But it was tough to do knowing it was the last game of spring training."
Gosselin recalled the surreal feel of the day, finishing the game, quickly showering then boarding the bus with teammates for the two-hour trip back to Clearwater.
"It was so weird," he said. "Some of the guys had already left and gone back on their own. The rest of us got on and talked for a while. Then it was silent the rest of the ride. It was like, 'Is this really happening? Is it as bad as they say?'
"At that point we knew it was a thing, but we didn't know it would turn into this."
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Gosselin, 31, has kept up with the crisis through news reports and conversations with his mom and dad and sister and brother back in the West Chester area. Everyone is safe, thankfully.
He's also gained quite a bit of perspective through his girlfriend, Rachel Jennings, an emergency room doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Gosselin is a Malvern Prep grad. Jennings is from Macungie, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Emmaus High School. They attended the University of Virginia together. Jennings graduated from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University last May and is a first-year resident at Vanderbilt Hospital.
"She's on the front line," Gosselin said. "It hasn't been too bad here, thank goodness, but it's still stressful. They take all the precautions, but it's still scary because you never know. You can take all the precautions available and still get it.
"She enjoys the work and loves helping people but it's definitely a little scarier in times like these."
Last week, the Tennessee state government began urging people to stay home. Gosselin said he's noticed more and more people wearing masks out in public. He is also taking precautions, doing his running outside far away from others. He and his baseball workout partners do their drills at a safe distance.
The baseball shutdown has left all players in a state of limbo, but some are in even more limbo than others. Bryce Harper, J.T Realmuto and Aaron Nola know where they'll be when baseball opens its doors again. They are established members of the Phillies' 25-man roster. Gosselin has spent his career battling for reserve roles on big-league teams. He played in 44 games with the Phillies, his sixth big-league club, last season and was in camp as a non-roster player on a minor-league deal when that umpire told him, "This is it," a month ago.
When baseball gets going again, Gosselin could ultimately end up with the Phillies' big club or the Triple A team in Lehigh Valley. His fate will be determined during the resumption of spring training. Players are definitely going to need a second spring training to ramp up and Gosselin is intent on being ready for that.
"I've had this discussion with some guys around league," Gosselin said. "You don't want to wear yourself out and do too much because you could be playing until November or December. But guys like me, we have to be ready the first day we go back, we have to be sharp and healthy and on the field or we have no shot to make it. We're really in the middle."
Veteran non-roster players are also caught in the middle financially as they don't benefit from the $170 million pot that MLB is divvying up among rostered players through May. For instance, Neil Walker, who is also with the Phillies as a non-roster player, does not benefit from that fund even though he's played 10 seasons in the majors. The Players Association last week recognized this issue and stepped in with stipends for players in these situations. A player with Walker's level of service time received $50,000. Gosselin, with three years of big-league time, received $25,000. In addition, all big-league teams are paying their minor leaguers $400 a week through May. Gosselin, Walker and other non-roster players qualify for that.
"The union is definitely taking care of us," Gosselin said. "It's really nice what they're doing. They wanted to help the whole time but legally there's only so much they can do because technically we're not part of the union right now because we're not on the 40-man roster. It's tough for a guy like Neil or Logan Forsythe (also with the Phillies.) They paid dues for a long time. It shows how strong the union is and how much they care about guys that they're willing to help us out. We're lucky because a lot of people don't have jobs. It definitely could be worse."
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While Major League Baseball and empty stadiums have become the visible reality of a sport on hold, the shutdown runs much deeper. The health crisis has claimed high school and college seasons. It wasn't long ago that Gosselin was starring at Malvern Prep and Virginia. He empathizes with the kids who have lost something so precious — in whatever sport they play.
"I've played a few years in the big leagues but still some of my most vivid memories of baseball are the games I played in high school and college with my buddies," he said. "I can't imagine what it would be like missing my senior year at Malvern or my last year at Virginia. For some of these guys, it's the highest level they'll play at and the most fun they'll ever have in the game. It's really tough. I'm still close with Freddy Hilliard, the coach at Malvern, and he feels devastated for his kids."
Gosselin is two courses shy of an economics degree at Virginia. He wants to finish his degree and has given some thought to getting that going if the pause in baseball continues much longer. He one day would like to work in a baseball front office. But for now, he wants to keep playing. That's why he's running sprints on a hill near his apartment in Nashville, doing conditioning drills fetched off of YouTube and sneaking into batting cages to keep his eye.
It's all stirred a new appreciation for the game he loves and how good big leaguers have it, from the facilities to the coaching to everything else.
"My dad (Dave) must have thrown me 10,000 pitches in the batting cage at West Chester East so this brings back a lot of memories," Gosselin said. "Good memories."
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