A year without baseball has been hard on Salt Lake Bees fans. Just imagine, then, how it has been on the players.
Of the 25 athletes on the roster for the Bees’ 2021 season opener Thursday against the Reno Aces at Smith’s Ballpark, about half of them didn’t play a single game or participate in an organized practice last season. When Major League Baseball decided not to send players to Minor League teams because of the pandemic, it set adrift hundreds of promising young players and savvy veterans alike. The other half of the Bees players, meanwhile, had the opportunity to spend months playing, or at least practicing, at the game’s highest level.
Salt Lake Bees vs. Reno Aces
At Smith’s Ballpark
When • Thursday, 6:35 p.m.
Bringing the two groups together will fall upon second-year manager Lou Marson. He’s setting out to do that with the primary goal of developing players who can contribute to the Los Angeles Angels — the MLB affiliate of the Triple-A Bees — and the secondary goal of earning some wins.
Like many of the Bees players, Marson felt some shock when he learned last spring that the season had been canceled. After spending some time with his family and his newborn daughter, however, he helped out at the Angels’ off-site training facility in Long Beach, California. He interacted with several Bees players at the facility, a holding tank for non-rostered athletes in the MLB club’s 60-player pool. But he didn’t see all of them.
“I haven’t been with some of the guys that weren’t at the off-site last year and weren’t at the off-site this year. So this will be the first interaction with them the last couple of days,” Marson said. “So, yeah, I mean, I’m just anxious to see ‘em play, see ‘em put a uni back on and go out there and run around again.”
That’s what the players are looking forward to as well.
Brennan Lund, an outfielder who played for both Bingham High and BYU in addition to playing for the Bees in 2019, spent 2020 taking backyard batting practice and lifting at his home in South Jordan. The 26-year-old called trying to stay in playing form on his own “a looong process.” The year felt so long, in fact, that Lund may be more excited to be back at Smith’s than even the 3,200 fans — or about 22% of the park’s capacity of 14,511 — who will be admitted due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It can get old after the first month, a lot of guys drop off,” Lund said of training on his own. “But about nine months into my lifting program, going five days, six days a week, you really find out what you’re made of at that point.”
While Lund was taking swings at the batting cages, though, 2019 Bees teammate Jo Adell was swinging at pitches from Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Cahill. The 22-year-old outfielder made his MLB debut with the Angels last season, where he hit .161 with seven RBIs and three home runs in 124 at-bats. Adell has been sent back to Triple-A to work on his defense, and Marson said he expects the player’s time with the Bees to be brief.
Adell may glean some of the tools he needs for a speedy call-up from locker-mate Jon Jay. The 36-year-old outfielder has spent 12 years in the majors, including six seasons with St. Louis. Phil Gosselin, Juan Lagares and Kean Wong, who combine for nearly 1,300 career Major League games, will also bring experience to the field and the locker room. So will pitchers Jaime Barria, Dillon Peters, Patrick Sandoval and José Suarez.
“Regardless of where they are, whether it’s triple-A or the big leagues, there’s a routine. There’s a process,” Adell said of the veterans. “You take notes about how some of these guys do that. You know, you want to be a part of that. You want to put yourself in there and have that be what you do.”
Getting back into a routine will be key for all the players, whether they spent last season fielding balls at Angel Stadium or at the neighborhood park. That starts with taking the field Thursday for what will be the first of 12-straight home games (a byproduct of a schedule that compartmentalizes travel as a way of limiting the risk of the spread of the coronavirus among multiple teams).
The next step is to get some wins, which players from both groups said they believe just might level the playing field.
“You go out with the same mindset as you would if this is the big leagues and go out there and try to win every ballgame that you can. … The guys up there will notice that,” Adell said. “If we’re going around and we’re playing the baseball we know how to play, they’re going to look down and say, ‘Man, these guys know how to play. They know how to win. We want these guys on our team,’ you know? So that’s I think that’s the mindset we’re going in with for sure.”