Resort facilities

How MLB players train at makeshift facilities during lockdown

MESA, Ariz. — Hundreds of amateur baseball and softball players — pickleball players, too — strolled through the sprawling Bell Bank Park sports complex on Friday, with few noticing a dozen major league players training among them.

Cubs infielder Nico Hoerner, who played at Head-Royce High School in Oakland and Stanford, was among the pros taking swings in the facility’s batting cages — at one point, with a child hitting in the cage right next to him.

The ballpark won’t be available for the Players Association on weekends because it’s tournament time in Arizona, but even with part-time access and youth league games just yards away from the bullpen and batting cage, locked out baseball players are happy. to have a place to fit into their workouts.

Hoerner jumped between up to three locations a day to prepare for the season each time it started, training at a gym in Scottsdale, hitting at Arizona State and taking grounders at a local high school.

“The Players Association has done an incredible job of putting this together,” Hoerner said on Friday. “Hopefully more players start showing up, because it’s pretty much the best place I’ve ever worked in – and it’s all in the same place.”

Add to that the camaraderie, for players who should now be training with their full squads, and it’s even more of a plus. Hoerner was able to catch up with Cubs teammate Kyle Hendricks, who held a bullpen session on Friday. Cleveland’s Shane Bieber and former Giants closest Mark Melancon were among the other pitchers in action.

Many older players are opting to stay home during lockdown if they have a good setup or are not near a union facility. Giants starter Alex Wood is in Georgia, training daily and holding two bullpen sessions a week. His receiver: his Giants teammate Joey Bart.

“I’ll be here until they say leave,” Wood said over the phone.

With the first week of regular season games already wiped out by MLB, how much time might a starting pitcher need to prepare once the labor dispute is resolved? Most starters are following the same sort of schedule as at normal spring training, which was supposed to open more than two weeks ago.

“I’m making slow progress,” Wood said. “I will continue to increase the volume in the hope that in the next two weeks we hope to get a deal. Once we head to camp, I should be ready to get into the games pretty quickly.

The next big step is to face the batters, which Wood predicts he will soon start doing; there’s no shortage of big leaguers in the Atlanta area who might want to practice batting with an experienced southpaw.

How long does Hoerner think he needs to start the season? “It’s easier for position players,” he said. “Give me my 30 at bats and I’ll be good to go.”

Hoerner, 24, is among the youngest members of the union that older players have been referencing a lot of lately; Angels star Mike Trout said on Facebook this week that the Players Association is unified to help the next generation, and Wood said Friday, “That’s a big part of what we do. Just look at the league minimums in all major sports, in the United States and around the world – we are significantly below many other leagues.

“The average career of a baseball player is less than four years, which pretty much eliminates free will or arbitration for a significant number of players, either to live on for the rest of their lives or to fill the gap. gap with getting a real job. -baseball. It’s important.”

Hoerner said no player wants a work stoppage; it’s baseball’s first in 27 years. But the focus on making sure players with 0-3 years of service get paid more is appreciated “whether it’s for young players now or for young players to come”, said he declared. “Somebody has to do it; it’s something that would be the best thing for the game. It should be the highest priority for everyone involved.

The union has stashed funds from license fees in a rainy day fund for more than five years and has made $5,000 stipends available in the past two months, with $15,000 stipends offered in April. Wood said he has no plans to dip into the funds at all, but he’s glad they’re there for those in need.

“We have a significant amount of money to support players for as long as this lockdown lasts,” he said. “I feel like most of the guys who have made a bit of money don’t get stipends. Guys leave those funds in case it gets crazy, God forbid. We’ll have stable incomes pretty strong for as long as it takes to reach a deal.

It is generally assumed that the owners have no qualms about eliminating April games, which tend to be less crowded, but local and national television deals will start to be affected in May, which could give more impetus to MLB to do something.

Sport has a lot of wealth to circulate. Players argued that MLB’s latest collective bargaining agreement and proposals did not reflect big revenue gains, jumping 30% to $10.7 billion in 2019 even as player salaries fell . That said, the way the dispute is being cast in some circles as “millionaires versus billionaires” is too radical, Wood said. A 2019 study determined that 40% of gamers earned less than $1 million during their career, and the median income for this group was $357,718, and that’s before being taxed in every state in which teams play, union dues or agent percentages.

“It’s definitely one of the most frustrating stigmas that surrounds what we’re going through,” Wood said. “To make a blanket statement like that is just plain wrong. A lot of people work for companies, but not everyone is unionized. We happen to have a union strong enough to fight for us and do what we morally think is right, and that’s all we ask.

“We are ready to go. We’re ready to come to a fair deal and move on and get some baseball out there and get the fans back in the park and get all the workers back to work.

Hoerner, who grew up an avid A fan, stopped by and signed autographs for a group of kids after speaking to The Chronicle and a Japanese TV station.

“I feel a lot for the fans,” he said. “As a baseball fan myself, you want to see Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani and Fernando Tatis and all those players have their full seasons. I want to see Mike Trout hit 60 home runs, amazing things like that, and when you start cutting the season short you’re going to miss those experiences.

Susan Slusser covers the Giants for the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: sslusser@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @susanslusser