Thursday’s conference call with Matt Klentak started five minutes before the first pitch of the Phillies’ home opener was scheduled to be thrown.
What should have been Zack Wheeler’s debut in red pinstripes at Citizens Bank Park instead became a 22-minute Q&A with Klentak during which the general manager understandably had few answers about what lies ahead for the team and the game he loves.
A month ago, Klentak and manager Joe Girardi were benignly fielding questions about the makeup of the 26-man roster and the leadoff spot in the batting order. Thursday the most pertinent inquiry lobbed at the general manager was this one: Do you think there is going to be a season?
The answer was honest and sobering.
“I don’t have enough information to answer that question and I’m not sure that anybody does,” Klentak said. “What I am confident in is that the owners, the players, the front offices, the fans, the media, everyone is aligned in wanting to play baseball as quickly as we can. When all the parties are aligned as they are, that gives me confidence that we’ll get back as soon as we possibly can get back. But I’m not in position to make any predictions about when that might happen.”
Nobody is. Not when you wake up Friday to the news that 10 million jobs have been lost in two weeks and you realize that’s only the second worst headline of the morning. Much worse was the reality that the number of deaths in our country caused by this insidious monster called the coronavirus increased by more than 1,000 in a single day.
How can we even think about baseball at such a morbid time in our history?
Klentak does not have a choice. It is his job, although he admits he never envisioned quite the way he is doing it right now.
“I would say first and foremost that everybody, no matter their role, is getting used to doing their jobs in a different way,” Klentak said. “For me, that has meant a lot of time spent on the phone and spent on Zoom conference calls or Google hangout calls, trying to figure out the best way to communicate with large groups of people throughout the organization and keep everybody connected.
"That has been among the most important things we’ve tried to do these last couple weeks is just maintain that connection with all of our employees because everybody is remote at this point even if you live in the same town as somebody.
“Beyond that, our scouts are working on ways to be as efficient as possible and do as much research as possible to prepare for a return to baseball and a draft this summer. We’re preparing for an international season that hopefully will return at some point later in the year.
"Our coaches are spending a lot of time watching video and connecting with our players and trying to help our players the best we can to stay in shape and stay engaged, but really every day is different and with it comes new information. We’re trying our best to adjust as well as we can.”
Like everybody else, a lot of people are fearful about losing their jobs in baseball and the longer we go without games the more realistic that fear becomes.
“Yeah, I mean that’s a situation that is not unique to baseball,” Klentak said. “A lot of decisions will be made above my pay grade, obviously. For all of us, we are hopeful that we’ll resume and not have to take measures like that. We trust that the Phillies are owned and run by very good people -- and have been for a long time. Everybody is trying to do the best thing right now.”
Most baseball people I have spoken with do not foresee the season starting until at least June in the best-case scenario.
“I think we’ll be lucky if we’re playing by the Fourth of July,” one baseball executive said.
What that season will look like is anybody’s guess. Klentak has read some of the ideas about how to be creative in a shortened season -- -- a lot of seven-inning doubleheaders is a popular suggestion -- and he admires them. But he was unwilling to offer any of his own.
“I defer to the really smart people working on that issue on the league side and the union side,” he said. “ A lot of people are weighing in with different ideas. What’s happening is obviously out of all our hands and we’re going to do the very best we can in the interim to prepare ourselves for when the season starts.
"If it’s a traditional season, we’ll be prepared for that. If it’s a modified season, we’ll be prepared for that. I have a lot of confidence in the people that head up our league operations and the players’ association operations, that when there’s a time to return to baseball, they’ll put their heads together and find the best way to do that.”
In the meantime, Klentak and those who work above and below him will continue with this life that is more unusual than they ever could have imagined.