Rhys Hoskins spent his birthday driving toward an uncertain future as he left Clearwater, Fla., on St. Patrick’s Day with his wife, Jayme, and their dog, Rookie. The truck pointed north to Philadelphia, but it also headed to a time in his life without baseball.
Hoskins celebrated his previous 13 birthdays on a baseball field — either in high school, college or the pros. But now he was navigating I-95 as he turned 27 years old. Five days earlier, spring training was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The regular season was postponed and the Phillies were encouraged to return home. So Hoskins drove to Philadelphia.
“When was the last time that I didn’t play baseball, practice baseball, or have something baseball related on my birthday?” Hoskins asked Jayme as they drove north. “Maybe Little League. I think we used to start Little League on April 1. It was weird.”
Major League Baseball does not know when it will begin the 2020 season. Following a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MLB will not return before the middle of May. But that is beginning to look optimistic.
Hoskins was on a conference call Thursday evening with the players union to accept a deal with baseball owners that, according to the Associated Press, would preserve service time for players if the season is canceled. If no games are played in 2020, owners will pay $170 million worth of player salary instead of the $4 billion that players are contracted to earn. If the pandemic cancels the season, any player currently on the 40-man roster, 60-day injured list, or in the minors with a major-league deal will receive 2020 service time that is equal to what they accrued in 2019. Under the deal, J.T. Realmuto would become a free agent next winter even if no games are played.
The baseball season was scheduled to begin on Thursday. Instead, the players and owners made plans in case the season is unable to be played.
“We’re all kind of in this delay, this eight-week period that the CDC has put out with the health and safety of the rest of the country in mind,” Hoskins said. “That’s where we’re at. I wish I had more information to share with others to give us something to hold on to baseball wise. But unfortunately, I don’t.”
Since returning to Philadelphia, Hoskins has passed time by walking his neighborhood with Rookie and sitting on his deck if the weather is nice. He lifts weights in his garage and works out in his driveway.
The Phillies were less than two weeks away from starting the season when spring training was canceled. Hoskins, like the rest of the players, is now tasked with staying in shape — but not overdoing it — for an opening day that has yet to be scheduled.
“For us, as baseball players, we have to go about this as this is another offseason,” Hoskins said. “The only real time frame we have is that eight-week period. So if you work backwards from where I would be eight weeks out from spring training — or maybe not spring training but at a time where I would have to be ready to play — then that’s kind of where I’m at.”
Before Thursday’s conference call with the union, Hoskins spent two hours playing video games to mark what would have been opening day. He faced Miguel Rojas, a Marlins infielder, in MLB The Show for PlayStation. Their virtual game started at 4:10 p.m. and was set at Marlins Park, the time and place that Thursday’s opener was originally scheduled.
Hoskins controlled his virtual team from his couch in Philly while wearing a pair of oversize headphones. Several of his Phillies teammates joined fans by following along with a stream on YouTube. Bryce Harper texted after Hoskins’ button-pushing helped the virtual Harper hit a homer in the sixth. Scott Kingery cheered him on.
Hoskins had not played the game much since he was teenager, so he spent the previous days training for Rojas. His work paid off and the Phillies won, 2-0. It was fun, Hoskins said. Hoskins hoped the game gave Phillies fans some taste of the game they are missing. For Hoskins, it was baseball on opening day. But it felt just as different as spending his birthday behind the wheel instead of at the plate.