Two recent rides stand out in Will Harris’ head.
The first came when he started his truck in West Palm Beach for the 10-plus-hour drive back home to Baton Rouge, La., unsure of what was to come. The second, and what remains a frequent journey, is when he hops into his golf cart, drives to the back part of the neighborhood, then throws bullpen sessions on a back yard mound.
Harris, one of the Nationals’ most important offseason acquisitions, is thankful for his circumstances while wading through quarantine brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. He throws all the time. He was at his daughter’s birthday party -- finally. A nearby gym owned by a friend is available. A Peloton recently arrived at his door. He’s not sick, no one in his immediate family is ill from the virus.
“I've actually been pretty busy,” Harris told NBC Sports Washington by phone Tuesday. “I’ve been able to kind of function fairly normal.”
While Harris guided his truck northwest and out of Florida, he wondered about what would be next. The spring training facility had just shut down. No one knew a timeline, and he didn’t want the progress from a spring abdominal injury to recede. So, he started in the back yard with a bucket of baseballs, a net and convinced he was going to throw almost every day.
Major-league pitcher Kevin Gausman lives down the street. A Double-A player in the New York Yankees system also lives nearby. So, Harris moved from his bucket and yard to playing catch in an open area near some tennis courts. When he wants to throw a bullpen, he drives his truck or golf cart a half-mile or so to Gausman’s house. They throw in the back yard, discuss pitching and record the outings with their cell phones.
“I think everybody’s in this spot: do as much as you can,” Harris said. “That’s all you can do. A lot of guys don’t have, like I said, the access that I have down here. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not their fault. It’s just the nature of where they happen to live and what resources they have. But luckily for me, just here in my neighborhood. I can do anything and everything that I want. I can do it safely and responsibly. And I can get my work in. It’s been great for me.”
His daughter turned eight years old last Sunday. Harris was home in Baton Rouge for the first time in her life to enjoy the party. This period has provided players uncommon family time during this point in the calendar.
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Yet, Harris is anxious to start playing again. He starts chatting with current and ex-teammates each time a new report comes out in regard to how the season may go. All the games in Arizona? Re-aligned divisions? Only 81 games? Much like they draw the eyes of fans, the public proposals catch the attention of all the waiting players.
One consistent theme in the scenarios trickling out is the beginning of the season -- whatever that consists of -- is unlikely to include fans. Harris has already found peace with that idea.
“I think if baseball wants to start as soon as it possibly can, that is an inevitability,” Harris said. “I don’t think there’s any way of avoiding playing games without fans. I’ve come to terms the 2020 season is going to look different, it’s going to be different. It’s going to be in different places. Rosters are going to be different. Everything's going to be different. And so you’re just going to have to try to understand that that’s how it’s going to be and you have to be willing to deal with it and just understand that it’s not going to be a comfortable situation. It’s just not.
“Nothing about it’s going to be comfortable. And just try and get through it as best as you can and realize it’s not going to last forever, it’s just going to be a short-term solution to our problem and things are going to go back to the way we know it.
“So when you talk about we’re going to play games in Arizona, we’re going to play games in Florida, there’s not going to be any fans, it’s like, yeah, just for now, that’s it. It’s not going to be that way forever. It’s easy to kind of go to that place of, ‘Oh, my God,’ when you kind of start to feel sorry for yourself or you want to complain. But it’s like, look, it’s going to be different. It just is. There’s no way around it. And I think, me personally, I’ve come to grips with that I understand that and I’m ready for whatever it’s going to be. And I understand that we’ve got to get through it as a sport -- not just as a team and one city. But all of this [will happen] then we’ll get back to normal in 2021, hopefully.”
For now, Harris will keep taking the golf cart down the street or his legs upstairs for a video-enabled bike ride. His daughter’s second-grade work is a daily task along with his workouts. He’s watching, reading, waiting. There’s little other choice.
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